Scrivener, and vitamin B12

Dear readers, allow me to share a bit of news with you.

First of all, I’ve managed to snag a coupon and download Scrivener at a discount. I’m going to try it and see if  it helps me keep track of details and continuity better than I seem to have been doing just by typing into Word. It wasn’t expensive, so I don’t mind spending a bit of money on an experiment.

Secondly, I’ve been diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency. I had a real problem with fatigue, and trying to write while fatigued- I would push myself to produce and write something to stay on schedule. Often I’d get tired and end the scene quickly, or fail to describe it well, or choose plot elements or characters that were kindly described as “bordering on stock”, just because I was exhausted and while I was enjoying writing, I also wanted to finish the chapter and move on. I’ve been intentionally spending time since I read over the commentary on my first draft of Anagama marshaling my energy, thinking over how I could improve the book, and trying to schedule a long block of time I could devote to working on the book without interruption. I think this May I will ask for two weeks off work, but that depends on finances and what is going on at work at the time.

I’m so pleased to report that, since taking sublingual B12 supplements, my energy levels have increased spectacularly. I don’t find myself swaying with fatigue while I fold laundry, or on the couch holding a book, unable to read the page in front of me because I’m that tired. And while I’m still holding off starting back on the edits to Anagama, I am optimistic that soon I’ll have enough energy at night that I’ll not only be able to write more often, but that the writing will be more fresh, lyrical, and original than what I managed last year.

I suppose time will tell, but I remain hopeful.

Maybe Ray Bradbury was right

I did something foolish the other day- Neil Gaiman’s ebook Trigger Warning was on sale for a fraction of its ordinary price, and I purchased it- but using my Amazon.com account. This is a problem because my Kindle is registered to the Amazon.ca site. It created all sorts of problems, not the least of which is the loss of the ebook (I had to return it, after all sorts of mucking  about with “Kindle Specialists”). I managed to fix the problems on my own,  and to test my newly-fixed Kindle, I decided to download the free sample of Neil Gamian’s Trigger Warning .

The sample contained the Introduction to the book- perhaps the entirety of it, perhaps simply a fraction. In this Introduction, Neil talked about the origins of each story in the book, and one of these stories he had written for Ray Bradbury. He talked about Ray and Ray’s advice to writers: “Write every day!”

I’ve heard this advice from many sources. Get your butt in the chair and write. Write each day. Read voraciously. Immerse yourself in your craft. I did this in high school- I read everything, I wrote every day- in summers sometimes I wrote six hours a day, and by summer’s end I not only had written novels, I had written them easily, almost effortlessly. I don’t have those novels any more- I threw them away, thinking they were terrible, in a fit of self-critcism- but the key thing, the main thing, is that I wrote. A lot. Every day.

When I was in college, studying microbiology, I stopped being able to read and write fiction every day, and I only had time for fiction on weekends at first- then maybe once or twice a month, then maybe less often than that. Writing became something I did for technical reports- a different kind of writing, using different parts of my brain (or so it seems to me). I went to graduate school and it was the same thing, though toward the end of it I managed to write fiction again- arguably not very amazing fiction, but it was something.

I graduated and worked, and I spent many years where I would hardly write any fiction at all- maybe a few poems here or there, or a short humorous sketch to make a friend laugh. I would occasionally dust off manuscripts and try to write, but I never had enough energy for them when I had time- and I rarely had extra time.

In the past couple of years I’ve tried making fiction writing a more routine thing, putting aside one, maybe two days a week where I knew I had blocks of time free to work on fiction. This has worked to an extent, but I’m out of touch with the side of my brain that is really good at writing fiction- all day every workday I spend time writing technical reports or computer programs, or conducting numerical analyses with complicated data. It’s a different kind of thinking, and when I get home I find I no longer can find the energy and drive I had as a high school student for fiction reading and fiction writing.

I have managed to put together a manuscript for my second novel, and I still plan to try to fix the structural problems and edit and polish as much as I can (which, alas, may take another few years, at my pace). I keep telling myself that I’m not in a race, but I can’t help missing the side of me that felt compelled to write fiction and that found writing fiction to be both freeing and effortless. The time I spend switching mental gears from how I think in my daily life to how I must think as a fiction writer exhausts me, and tonight I am having a bit of a crisis of faith. What if the part of me that was able to write well has died, or atrophied to the point where it can’t be resucitated? What if I will never be a writer- that is, a good writer, a productive writer whose work is read and enjoyed by many?

I will still work on my novel- or rather, novels, since I’ve got ideas for many floating about in my head. It’s a harmless pastime and it actually does give me enjoyment when I manage to put words to paper and they aren’t entirely terrible, or I come up with an idea that I think is new and interesting. I just wonder how much I’ve cost myself- how much time, how many works of fiction that could have been written and will now never exist- because I wasn’t able to follow Ray Bradbury’s advice to write every day.

“Fire burn and cauldron bubble!”

Hello, dear readers- no, I haven’t gone Harry Potterish on you all. The Shakespearean quote above (one of my favourite scenes in Macbeth) refers only to the state of my mind as I cogitate upon how to change Anagama around. There are lots of possibilities and they sort of come to the surface, bob about among the bubbles for a while, then convection carries something new to the surface and the old idea, once recorded and cooled, sinks into my subconscious again.

I’m taking it fairly easy today since I’ve had a very difficult winter psychologically so far and I feel I shouldn’t push myself too much. This sounds a lot like making excuses, but honestly- I really don’t want to relapse into nightmare, even if it does bring forth book ideas. I’ve only recently achieved normality, or a semblance. So apologies, perhaps it is lazy, but I am taking today to write down notes as they come to me, and watch videos relating to a jazz appreciation course I am taking online. Who knows, maybe a jazz musician will wind up floating about the surface of my cauldron, floating serenely on the surface of an old idea, tootling away on a saxophone.

Back to the drawing board

So, readers, the critiques of the current working draft of Anagama came back- or rather, one did- and the verdict is that it needs a fair bit of work. As in, it may need elements and entire subplots to be dismantled and revised, the pacing is off, and a fair number of characters need to be reworked or omitted.

I’m actually pleased with this verdict- it’s much more useful than “Oh, it’s fine.” I wasn’t sure how well the book held together as a work of fiction, since I’ve been working on it off and on (mostly off) for nearly two decades, I finished it very quickly, and I knew it must have problems in consequence. While it’s always galling to realize one has made errors or fallen into the clutches of cliché, it’s better to have someone point this out before you try to publish or widely distribute something- not afterward.

I’d hoped to have Angama ready to distribute to friends and family by Easter, but barring me getting a few weeks of unexpected vacation and bursts of creative energy, this won’t be possible- so the timeline for this work being ready to distribute has changed. Now I’m hoping to have it done sometime in 2016- I won’t say when, because I don’t want to rush again and produce another disappointing work. Possibly by the end of the summer, possibly by Christmas. It really doesn’t matter, honestly, because I don’t have a contract.

This elongated time frame gives me some time to recover from the recent bouts of illness I’ve had which have launched so many odd ideas which, in the fullness of time, may eventually become books. I’d hoped to start work on one of those (working title Hypnagogia) after Easter, but I think maybe I should take the time to let the ideas settle and disconnect from me a bit more so I can actually write them down (and be able to evaluate them carefully) without causing myself undue stress.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my first (and so far only, alas) critic, who shall remain anonymous, for his help in this- it is extremely valuable help, as I trust his judgement and taste. It’s always a struggle for me to find the time and energy to work on my writing, but with help and perserverance I hope to have this second novel reworked, finished and polished sometime in 2016.