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[cancer] I got me the brain-eating heebie jeebie blues

Sometimes the universe sees fit to hand me a blunt force comeuppance. Just a couple of days after I blog about how I can always find time to write, and that I am almost never blocked [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ], I am blocked.

Yesterday was very hard for several reasons that don’t have much directly to do with cancer. Thursday night’s misadventures with leaving my wallet in Lincoln City had me both badly exhausted and short slept. These days it’s easy to forget that I’m less than four months out of chemotherapy, but I do still tire more easily than in baseline health. So I started yesterday feeling like hell. Then I spent most of the day at the hospital with a friend. (Yes, everything’s fine, but I still spent most of the day at the hospital.) While simultaneously juggling a difficult set of Day Jobbe issues that ran on well into the evening. (Yes, everything’s fine, but I still spent most of the day juggling difficult issues.)

Yesterday was pretty much a loss from a writing perspective. But I knew it would be going in, and declared it as such. In fact, yesterday was such a loss that I went lights out at eight o’clock last night. That’s way early for post-chemo me. Slept solid for over nine hours, too, so obviously I needed it badly.

The joker in the deck isn’t all that. Physically, I feel pretty recovered this morning. I’m giving myself a break and not rushing into my day as I am wont to do. It’s the cancer stress that’s killing me now, and was almost certainly killing me yesterday as well.

The next CT scan is Monday, two days from now. The next round of oncology appointments are Wednesday, four days from now. These scans are always very, very hard on me. Any of them could be a death sentence for me. Any of them could mean I lose yet another year of my personal, social, emotional and writing life to surgery and chemotherapy. And that’s even if I have no reason not to think I’m clean, that I’m not cancer-free.

Unfortunately, at the moment, there is good reason to suspect I’m not clean.

As you know, Bob, we found a new lesion on my liver as a result of my prior CT scan in February. The clinical status of that lesion is undetermined. But given my personal history of throwing metastases on a roughly annual basis, it’s very, very hard for me to be optimistic about this.

My brain is empty. The stress monster has slurped it up, burped it out, and shit in my empty skull just as a special bonus.

I’m almost certain there will be no writing today. I’ll be amazed if there will be any writing between now and next Wednesday’s oncology appointments. Unfortunately, right now I am in book mode [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. I have deadlines, admittedly self-imposed, but no less real for that.

Cue a cycle of guilt, recrimination, and irritation. Irritation at myself and at the cancer.

The objective reality of this situation is that I’m nicely ahead of schedule on Their Currents Turn Awry. I budgeted April and May to complete this draft, and I’m only 50-60,000 words from being done. Possibly a bit fewer. Given that I have seven weeks left, and I’m averaging 3,000 words per writing day on this project, I have loads of time.

But objective reality isn’t exactly the point here. The cancer-induced brain-eating heebie jeebie blues are the point here. Or not.

Today, I’ll go to [info]the_child‘s lacrosse game, visit [info]lizzyshannon, have lunch with my parents, visit with my friend H—, and still have plenty of time to write if the vapor lock in my head clears up. Even if the vapor lock doesn’t clear up, I’ll have a fun, busy day with people I care about, who care about me. Tomorrow is just as committed, hiking with friends in the morning, then dinner with [info]mlerules, then an evening conference call on an exciting new project.

I’m doing the best I can here. Unfortunately, cancer laughs at my best. Stupid fucker is eating my life.

[writing] Speaking of writing time…

…I am (probably) taking the day off from writing. I finished a major chunk of Their Currents Turn Awry yesterday, and I some things I really want to do this afternoon after work that will take the rest of my day.

This is why several years ago I consciously redefined my novel-writing work ethic and functional goals to be “at least 2,500 words per day, at least five days per week.” So I can take a day or two off without feeling guilty.

Of course, I feel a little guilty anyway, but as [info]matociquala says, if you do not finish the book today, you will have to work on it tomorrow.

I have a fair number of tomorrows yet on this book. Starting with, erm, tomorrow.

[writing] Some more work on Their Currents Turn Awry

Yesterday I managed ninety minutes on Their Currents Turn Awry prior to Mary Robinette Kowal ‘s launch party for Glamour in GlassPowells | BN ]. Things are plugging along, and I’m very nearly at the end of the first third of the second half of this the second book of Sunspin. (Yeah, really.)

So, here’s some WIP for y’all. The usual disclaimers about first draft-i-ness apply, of course.

(more…)

[process] Muddling in the middle

In the last nine days, I’ve written 24,500 words on Their Currents Turn Awry. Since I started with 66,600 words from last year’s writing, I really only need another 50,000 to 60,000 words to finish this draft. In other words, I’m already a third of the way there.

But I’m also firmly in the middle. And I’m hitting a muddle in the middle so classic that it makes me laugh at myself. “This boring.” “No one wants to read this.” “Why am I writing this?” “Look, there’s some bills that need to be paid!”

One if the reasons this strikes me as funny is that Sunspin as a whole is organized in arcs or chunks. Each chunk is 60,000 to 80,000 words long, roughly. Each chunk has three segments of 20,000 to 30,000 words each. There is no chaptering. So within each segment, I have a middle. Within each chunk I have a middle. Within each book, I have a middle. Within the four book series, I have a middle.

Are you sensing a pattern yet?

Right now I’m approaching the middle of the second chunk of Their Currents Turn Awry, just past the middle of the book, and approaching the middle of the series. It’s as if my muddle in the middle were a nested set of Ptolemaic epicycles and they’re all coming together.

So, hell yeah, I’m muddling. This is where I know not to decide the idea is boring and stupid and go chase some other shiny, cool idea. How do I know not to do this? Because I am an experienced writer.

Everybody’s middles suck. At least to them, while they’re writing. Giving up at this point is the biggest mistake newer writers make. And it’s a mistake that tempts at least some of us older writers.

Luckily for me, my desire to see how the story comes out waaaaay trumps the middle-muddling going on.

[conventions] Norwescon Day Four

Well, that was an easy day. Woke up, worked out, spent some time with [info]lizzyshannon, packed, checked out, loaded the car with the help of [info]the_child, hit the panel on book covers which was oh so ably managed by John Picacio, with supporting roles from Jack Skillingstead, Mary Robinette Kowal and me, then hit the road for home.

I hadn’t expected to write much if at all yesterday, but I did managed 75 minutes in back seat of Irene Radford’s car, pulling out 2,600 words of Their Currents Turn Awry. Given my state of mind and body, I doubt they’re very good words, but that’s what revision is for.

My next writerly appearances are a DAW reading in Seattle on the evening of May 10th, then the Paradise Lost conference the week after that in San Antonio. For now, I’m staying home, working on the book, and trying to keep my happy ass out of the oncology ward.

[personal|child] Hitting the Oregonian News Network Meetup

Yesterday afternoon, amid a frenzy of drafting Their Currents Turn Awry and packing for Norwescon, [info]the_child and I hied on down to the Lucky Lab on SE Hawthorne for an @ORNewsNetwork meetup.

@ORNewsNetwork is the Oregonian News Network, a blog syndication portal sponsored by Oregon’s major daily newspaper. (Disclaimer: To state the obvious, this blog is part of that syndication portal. Hence me being at the meetup.) I’d worked with editors @georgerede and @corneliusrex online, but never in person. It was fun to meet them. Also met some cool bloggers, including @TheBugChicks, a pair of young, hip, funny entomologists, along with folks covering topics as diverse as urban foraging, consumerist issues and documentary filmmaking.

[info]the_child is a veteran of many conventions, conferences and other large-scale social venues, but this was her first meetup style event. She had a few nerves going in, but that was quickly dispelled. She did a lot of talking and listening, and I hope learned a few things. Amusingly, we also ran into a family from [info]the_child‘s school while at the Lucky Lab.

As I said to the kiddo in the car on the way there, I’m doing my best to bring her as much experience of the world as possible while I still can, just in case I’m not here for too much longer. The meetup was fun for me, educational for her, and a good way to spend an hour or two on a Portland Wednesday afternoon.

[conventions] Almost off to Norwescon

Tomorrow I’m off to Norwescon with [info]the_child and [info]lizzyshannon. My public schedule, for them what wants it, is here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ].

Saturday afternoon/evening is crazy, otherwise, my schedule is reasonable. I’ll be relaxing as much as possible while also being in convention mode, if that makes any sense. Plus trying to knock in at least an hour a day on drafting Their Currents Turn Awry. Because, well, that’s how I roll.

See some, all or none of you there.

[process] Watch that first step, it’s a doozy

Diving into a substantial project for the first time, or back into it if I’ve been off for a while, always includes a moment of challenge for me. There’s a point where I say to myself, “Whoa, I can’t do that.” For Pete’s sake, I’ve written nineteen first draft novels. It’s not like I don’t know how to do the work at this point. There’s just a sense of biting off part of an elephant. It’s biiiig.

This happened to me yesterday as I geared up to once more start laying down significant first draft word count on Their Currents Turn Awry, Sunspin volume two. I’d spent the previous couple of days reading through the 66,600 words of draft I already had in the can. That effort got me back into the headspace of the books, the terrain of the characters. Yesterday, though, I needed to step off the edge and take the plunge into the next 70,000 words or so.

For one long, slow moment, teetering at the edge, I felt like chickening out.

I didn’t. I never do. But the temptation is always there, right at that launch point.

In fact, I went on to write 4,500 words of first draft yesterday. Two character segments. With gunfire, and crashed spaceships sinking into the waters of a frigid mountain lake, and murder at a production studio. It’s not like it wasn’t fun, or interesting, or engaging, or entertaining. Writing (almost) always is those things for me.

I just get a little spooked by the size of my ambitions sometimes. Then I remember that I am bigger than the story, that I must be bigger than the story. It is contained within me, and only I can let it out.

The multitudes are marching. I will be for a while plural.

[process] Analyzing the writing of Calamity of So Long a Life

As I mentioned over the weekend, Calamity of So Long a Life is finally off my desk and out into the world. More about that when there’s more to report.

Now that I’m embarking on Their Currents Turn Awry, this seems like a good time to review what I’ve done with Calamity. Checking my production information, I find the following:

150.0 hours of writing (includes the synopsis, and about 65,000 words of Currents)
90.25 hours of revision
240.25 hours total

If I fudge out 32.5 hours for the work that has turned into the first part of Their Currents Turn Awry, using an assumed base production rate of 2,000 words per hour, that still leaves me with the following:

117.5 hours of writing time (includes the synopsis)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

I can further fudge out 75.5 hours for the work on drafting Calamity of So Long a Life, in order to break out the outlining process from the drafting process, I get the following:

42.0 hours of writing time (outline)
75.5 hours of writing time (first draft)
90.25 hours of revision
207.75 hours total

In effect, I wrote the first draft of Calamity of So Long a Life at roughly the same clip I’ve been drafting for a long while, since I deliberately applied the brakes to slow myself down. As I have discussed a number of occasions, that’s 1,800 words an hour, with bursts up to 2,500 words an hour. I average about 2,000 words an hour over a large scale project.

One thing that is different about this book is that I expended a very large amount of time on the outline, both in up front effort and in ongoing tweaks once the project was underway. As it currently stands, the outline is about 120 pages long, totaling 28,400 words in its own right. I haven’t even accounted for all the time on the outline prior to 2011, as I’d been prethinking and making notes on Sunspin for several years prior to that.

Another thing that is different about this book is that I’ve greatly expanded the amount of time spent on revisions. For productivity planning purposes, I used to estimate 100 hours to write a 200,000 word first draft, and another 50 hours for revisions. In other words, revisions consumed 50% of the time that a first draft consumed. What has happened on Calamity is that revisions now consume 120% of the time that the first draft consumed.

Even in just drafting this blog post, I am surprised by these numbers. I hadn’t realized how much time I’d sunk into revisions. It’s not surprising in retrospect, as I added two major steps to my process as compared to prior books. But still… As for the outline, I’ve known all along that Sunspin has been requiring a radically different investment in that part of the process. And it has really paid off.

Both of these trends are almost certainly very good things. Is it taking me longer to write a book with the expanded prep time and the expanded revision time? Obviously. Considerably longer. But writing isn’t a horse race, and nobody gives out medals for being fast. Because I believe that by taking all this extra time both before and after executing the first draft, I’m writing a much, much better book.

Or at any rate, I really hope so. If I’m not improving, I’m doing it wrong.

First drafts have always been the most joyous part of the process for me. They still are. Discovering the story, seeing it unroll onto the page, is where I get my greatest writer yayas. All this time spent on the synopsis and the revision? That’s me maturing and developing as a writer. Giving you more reader yayas, ideally.

I’m already applying these expanded processes to both Little Dog: Son of a Bitch (co-authored under [info]bravado111‘s guidance) and to Their Currents Turn Awry. I haven’t yet seen validation from the market, the critics or the readers, but I really believe in these changes, and trust that others will, too. And as always, I’m looking forward to whatever happens next.

This is a fun, fun career.


Note: I know some people take considerable exception when I make these very metrics-driven process posts. Please understand that I use this kind of thinking in two places.

One, when I’m budgeting my writing time a year or two ahead, so I know what I can produce in what time frames.

Two, after the fact, when I’m looking to derive lessons learned from a project. As in this post right here.

When I’m actually doing the writing, in the flow, I barely think about this stuff at all. Story comes first, always. But in order to be a competent, deadline oriented professional, it’s important to me and my process to understand the underpinnings. Hence the quantitative analysis.

[writing] Settling (back) into Their Currents Turn Awry

Due to the vagaries of drafting Calamity of So Long a Life, I already have 66,600 words of Their Currents Turn Awry in the can. So yesterday I started re-reading them in order to gear up for the drafting process. Wound up writing a few more words, too, adding about 1,600. It’s nice to see the story on the page. And as usual for me in the midst of a large project, Sunspin is very real inside my head.

I really only need about another 70,000 words here, and I’ve budgeted two months to do it. That’s a remarkably generous time allotment. If I wind up needing liver surgery after the April 18th oncology appointments, well, I’ll keep that budget. If I’m clear for a while longer, I’ll accelerate my schedule for the year, either by also writing the first part of The Whips and Scorns of Time in May, or by shifting my planned June efforts forward a month. No matter how it works out, the extra time will pay off.

Yesterday I did some proofreading as well. I also spent a bunch of time yesterday reading critique for an upcoming conference. This was the first pass. That always makes me think a lot about my own craft. I’ll give those stories one or two more passes (depending on what each one needs) over the next few weeks, and have my crit in the can. My only other top-of-the-to-do-list project of note right now is to assemble the eighth grade anthology, as an outcome of my recent guest teaching gig there. Everything else is out of my hands at the moment.

The words march on.

[writing] A bit more on the state of play

Updatery of various sorts herein.

In March, I had two acceptances, both nonfiction. One was a piece for the SFWA Bulletin, the other was a contribution to a book of writing exercises. That makes five first rights acceptances for the first quarter of 2012, two of which I haven’t been able to announce yet, plus one reprint acceptance for audio rights. Not counting a couple of very stale submissions that I should probably withdraw or write off, I only have one other piece out the door right now for consideration. As I’m constantly telling other writers, if you don’t submit, you can’t be accepted. (In truth this mostly has to do with a combination of low short fiction output the last few years and the fact that much of what I have written has been for requesting markets, and most of that sells on first submittal.)

As of yesterday I am done with Calamity of So Long a Life (Sunspin, volume one), at least until there’s an editorial letter on it. The book goes out to market next week along with synopses for the other three volumes. My profound thanks to all my first readers and commentors who’ve provided substantial aid on the project. I promise, I’ll redshirt you all in future volumes of the series arc. Tomorrow or Monday I’ll be diving into Their Currents Turn Awry (volume two), but as I’ve already got about 65,000 words of first draft, that book is well on its way.

Today, [info]the_child and I are off to Silverton with [info]lizzyshannon for a book signing and panel discussion Lizzy is having there. I’ve offered to be a drop-in on the panel, but only if they want me.

Next week, of course, is Norwescon. I’ll be at the hotel in Seatac from early Thursday afternoon through early Sunday afternoon. If you want to see me, my schedule is here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. Or look for me in the bar. I’m always open to being taken to lunch or dinner, too, at least til my dance card fills.

On Sunday, April 15th, The Oregonian is scheduled to run a feature length profile on me in both the print and online editions. Except for my Locus interviews, this will be my most in-depth media exposure to date. I’ll be quite curious to see how they present me.

Finally, there’s some very neat stuff happening around the whole Going to Extremes project. Watch this space for details, but trust me, it’s deeply cool.

I think that’s about it for right now. No writing today, taking a brain break. (Or maybe not, but I haven’t planned any writing time.)

[travel|writing] Fly away, little bird

I am in the Omaha airport, getting ready to head home to Portland. Much distracted by putting a wrap on Calamity of So Long a Life today, including the edits oh so helpfully provided by the lovely and talented [info]lizzyshannon. Also a little tight for time, so this here is all the bloggery you’re getting today.

This weekend: busy with some Time Off, as well as Doing Taxes. Sunday or Monday I’ll start in on Their Currents Turn Awry, Sunspin volume two, of which I already have about 60,000 words written.

Meanwhile, the airways beckon. Y’all play nice.