WIP Wednesday #7: Pandemical Output

Work in Progress

It seems that a lot of people are finding life hard right now. They’re stuck at home, can’t socialize, and many have other worries (lost jobs, long lines at food banks, bored children who can’t hang with their friends). This event—caused by the novel coronavirus, a biological entity spreading as a sickness known to the world by the name of COVID-19—as a sociological phenomena has affected me mildly. So I’ve been putting off writing anything about it here on my website (though my personal journal is full of reflections).

Little Girl Social Distancing Dolls
Capture from a video of my niece’s dolls social distancing in the yard.

One of the things that social distancing has taught me is that I don’t socialize. It really hasn’t changed my social life whatsoever. The biggest social difference is that I’m no longer meeting up with Mike for our working meetings (we’re creating scripts for a literary YouTube channel we hope to get off the ground at some point).  Although this itself doesn’t feel odd, since we only started doing them about 3 weeks before #SocialDistancing became a thing.

My wife, however, has been feeling the changes more acutely than I. She’s a school teacher, so she’s been working from home, doing Zoom video meetings regularly.
Iowa law does not currently allow virtual learning to count toward minimum hours required each school year. So my wife’s district has been creating voluntary homework. It’ll be corrected, but not graded, for those students who choose to do it (AKA for those kids whose parents make them do it).

Not Study Game
I must say, having Libby at home has been generally nice. While different, it does not feel particularly novel. After all, she is home pretty much all day during the summer. Summer just came early, while snow still kept repeatedly gracing the ground with its annoying clinginess. #FuckSnow #MeltAlready

We also happen to live in one of the few states without a mandatory stay-at-home order (and I work in Nebraska, which also lacks blanket pandemic measures). So things don’t feel as locked down as they probably do elsewhere in the country. The hotel I work at has slowed down quite a lot; it seemed the summer construction season was ramping up early before the virus appeared on our shores. Nevertheless, we’ve been holding our own. Also, because of our status as a housing facility, I think we’re considered essential business, so it’s likely that even if Pete Ricketts began implementing draconian measures to help save the lives of citizens under his governorship, our business would continue to operate as long as employees were staying healthy.
So if there’s financial hardship headed my family’s way, we’ve yet to see it. With the stimulus check landing in our savings account last week, we’re actually coming out ahead.

coming out ahead

I think the most stressing part of all this (outside of the copious amount of hand sanitizer and bleach water I’m using while at work) is seeing the president attempt to rewrite history, push conspiracy theories, cut off funding from WHO, and (most recently) make a call for citizens to rise up against state governments (specifically of Democrat governors; Republican led states doing the same thing aren’t the target of his presidential tweets).

Check out Randal's current sole political essay on Medium

This is highly distressing. It simply boggles my mind how such a horrible human being and incompetent “leader” can possibly be in charge right now.  With another weak Democratic candidate as the only option left (well, I guess we’ll see if the unofficial write-in-Bernie movement gets serious by the time November rolls around) I’m afraid it’ll be four more years of the Orange Buffoon. Hopefully his transparent ploy to save the economy by duping people into thinking it’s okay to get back to normal before the transmission rate gets close to zero (the Fed guidelines are only asking for a 2-week downward trend, which isn’t what health officials had suggested as a sign for reopening the economy). Of course, without adequate testing, there’s no way to know for sure if any place is ready. Is the trend really down or are our testing supplies in such inadequately short supply that we’re guessing based on wholly incomplete data? But the Liar in Chief continues to think the public and reporters are too dumb to realize that we don’t have enough tests. Only his ardent cult followers believe him and whatever tumbles out of the screen from Fox News (#fauxnews).

idiot in chief

And by the time this scheduled post goes up, who knows what other insane set of alternative facts or devastating decisions that Trump, the Great American Traitor, will let issue forth from his frog’s mouth.

Politics were slightly less stressful for me the first three weeks of social distancing at the beginning of March because I didn’t have time to catch more than a handful of soundbites on the radio. Why? because I was writing. Yes, I was actually writing quite a lot. I found a publisher for a piece called Christ Abyss and so began the process of taking a draft, adding and editing until it turned into a short novella or novelette. I sent it in to the transgressive publisher on the 31st, though I suspect it could have been better (a beta reader got back to me only recently with some great suggestions), but that was the deadline.  I don’t know if you’d term it a dark fantasy or horror fantasy or an anti-heaven tourism novel, but it’s not written for righteous among us.

badass Jesus

Whatever it is, it had my full attention for those three weeks—despite being just about done with draft 1 of my novel and having just downloaded new software for editing the video footage I filmed for a “Write with Me” style YouTube video.

Order of events: I wrote the damned novella, took a week off from everything except our new Nintendo Switch (okay, this is the other biggest change that the coronavirus has thus far brought to our lives; I haven’t owned a gaming system since 2005), and then finally finished draft 1 of the novel last Thursday. Yes siree, the zero draft I completed on December 3rd has finally been fully transferred into an edited digital first draft.

My goal was to write a sorta bigger book (no Moby Dick, but hopefully something bigger than the standard 80K). I thought I would probably hit somewhere between 120 to 126 thousand words for my first draft. My hope was to then expand this during my edits, adding scenes, better detail, etc. Then, in all likelihood, I would see it trimmed back down to about the original length after my future publisher’s editor got done hacking it to pieces revising it.

My final word count came to 173,499 words. That’s over 47 thousand more words than I expected to get. And I’d love to see this word count even higher when I get to work on draft 2. I don’t think I will see it rise more than 5 or 10 thousand words, but if for some reason I managed to add enough to get my #FutureMasterpiece above the 200K word mark, I’ll treat myself to a fancy steakhouse dinner (assuming the local steakhouses find the means and meat to reopen after America gets its herd immunity—I mean its mass vaccinations).

Steak (Simpsons)

My next task is to dive back into the remainder of my unedited dialogues. I’m sure that I’m waaay behind where I should have been with these, but that’s the writing life for ya. You get creatively distracted. You get bogged down by life or lifted away into a book (when will I learn that I can’t read fiction in the mornings if I want to get any writing done?). Your muse sometimes says you must muster your writerly might for more material matters (for example: an alliterative blog post).

I also don’t know how attentive I’ll be on my AuthorTube channel; whatever pleasure and practical gains I get from it can’t compare to the simple act of writing & creating story. On top of that, it begins to look nice enough out for sitting around outdoors in the evenings with a book. Maybe I’ll make a goal of one video a month for now (though don’t hold me to it). Other than putting off the unessential, I’ve also taken some stabs at starting a new novel. The proper way to begin is eluding me. What I think I need to do is actually sit down and plot this book. I’ve never plotted before. And since my attempts at not plotting this thing have petered out, it’s time I take the plunge into the twisty waters of plotting. Wish me the best of luck! #WriteOn

Please stay healthy, happy, & word-nerdy, Bookworms.

write on

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[An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that requiring online education was illegal in Iowa. This post was updated to reflect more accurate language around virtual education in this state.]

2020 Author Goals

2020 Author Goals.jpg

One of the things to remember when setting goals is that less is more. If I want more productivity, then I take more off my plate rather than add to it whilst budgeting my time into complex micro-amounts in an attempt to tackle it all. With this said, last year was a year of focusing on my novel. This year I want so much more. We’ll see if I can have a lot more without breaking my goal-setting rule of less is more.

Writing Goals. 
My goals for this year include editing my completed novel, editing my dialogues, and to work on two new novels.

Whoa, Randal, that’s way too much. When you said you wanted “so much more,” we didn’t expect your “more” to be that much more than last year.

Okay, yes, I admit this doesn’t look like a run-of-the-mill full plate, but an over-the-top heaping plate. However, I have a plan.

AnalogClock

Daily Routine.
I intend to tackle all of my writing goals this year by splitting my weekdays into two manageable chunks.

I really wanted to work on editing my dialogues last year, but I rarely got around to touching them. I think this is largely due to the fact that I intended to make evenings my editing time. These intentions were thwarted by my enjoyment of evening reading, chores, and spending time with my wonderful wife. So now I know that if I want to actually edit what I’ve written, I need to edit during the day.

The daily routine will consist of half writing and then half editing. I’ll spend half the time working on a new novel and then the other half of the day editing, using lunch as a mental reset button.
Writing_Habit
Specifics.
Starting next week, I’ll begin outlining a new novel. And, yes, I said outlining. I know what I want my next novel to be, and it’s going to require a little more plotting than the last two novels. We’ll see how this goes. I’m a little leery of plotting since I feel that the weakest parts of my last novel were the ones I most heavily outlined. In the end I may just plunge into composition, but I’m going to try and start with a framework if possible.

For editing, my priority is to finish typing up the hand-written zero draft of my recently completed novel. Once I’ve done that, I will set it aside and work on my dialogues, both so I can actually finish editing them and so that I can come back to my novel with fresh eyes.

YouTube Binge
Weekends.
I don’t always utilize weekends to their full advantage. I have a weekend job that—while not exactly a sinecure—gives me a lot of free time to devote to whatever I want. What I want most of the time is to binge YouTube. However, I also read, socialize, and even write during this time. In fact, everything I’ve ever written at work was published within days. So quality doesn’t seem to suffer. Still, the easier pleasure is YouTube, and I have freely indulged.

Adjusting how I use my weekends is perhaps my biggest 2020 author goal. The adjustment to my daily routine is simply a matter of learning to shift focus. Changing how I spend my time while at work on weekends is not just a shift of focus, but will be a total shift in behavior. I’ve trained myself pretty well at seeing weekends as a time to plug into the internet. Outside of livestreaming my writing, I pretty much avoid being online during the weekdays. If I avoid going online at home, I can avoid going online at work, right? Well, we’re about to find out how easy it is to retrain this lazy habit I’ve built for myself.

So what am I going to be doing with my weekends? Answer: I want to try an experiment.

You may have noticed that in my writing goals above I mentioned working on two novels. The experiment involves one of these.

An idea popped into my head shortly before Christmas for an experimental novel built around a refrain. This book is really calling to me to be written. I do feel it’s important to write something a bit more accessible, which is what my weekday novel will be; yet, I don’t think I should ignore this pull I feel towards this strange narrative. So in order to make sure I’m not just writing hard-to-sell experimental works, but also not ignoring my creative impulses, I’ll be working on the refrain book during the weekends.

The experimental part of this weekend project isn’t just the fact that it’s an “experimental” book. I am kind of comfortable with experimental writing at this point. For me, the experiment is to try and write a novel solely on the weekends and to also try and write the zero draft on my work computer, using something like Google Docs perhaps. I’m going digital on this one for convenience’ sake (no lugging my laptop, no forgetting a physical manuscript or flash drive).
creative flow
Social Media. 
To stream or not to stream, that is the question. 

Okay, so I finished writing my latest novel while livestreaming, which was really cool. But I’m not sure I want to continue to stream while I write.

Here’s what I like about streaming while writing:
1) It’s totally motivating to get in as many hours at the desk as possible.
2) I take shorter coffee breaks because I have an audience to entertain.
3) It’s a pretty unique thing to do.
4) By watching me write for hours and hours, I can hopefully inspire other creatives to devote time productively, helping them to quit their own procrastination by joining me while I write.

Here’s what I don’t like about streaming while writing:
1) I haven’t found a feasible way to use my standing desk while livestreaming, though this certainly isn’t an insurmountable problem, just a technical one.
2) The quality of my writing goes down due to distraction from my viewers.
3) While I am grateful for the viewers, especially my regulars, I am not actually reaching the audience of creatives (especially fellow writers) I am specifically creating content for, which in the ends means I am doing more chatting and much less actual writing than I’d like.
4) By far this is the biggest issue: I am struggling to get into the flow or the zone. I don’t think flow is necessary for writing—even good writing. However, flow not only feels good, it is a sign that one is in a state of intense concentration and growth. In some sense, it is necessary to be striving toward flow because this is the main signal of overcoming the obstacles of the kind of striving that makes you grow as a person. I believe that achieving this kind of flow is necessary to living well. But with people dropping by to chat and ask questions (and maybe even to donate a dollar or two), that flow state isn’t reached for me. If I’m not reaching a state of flow ever, it’s possible I’m failing to grow as an author and as a person.

It’s mainly due to the last point that I feel that my experiment with livestreaming while writing on Twitch is probably over. Nonetheless, I am entertaining an attempt at livestreaming on YouTube. The audience may be more receptive of things that failed to garner positive attention on Twitch, such as my silent writing streams. However, even with an audience of authors, I’ll still have an audience to engage with, meaning that flow isn’t likely going to be achieved.

Speaking of YouTube, I still want to keep making YouTube videos (aka: AuthorTube videos). It’s the addition of these kinds of social media projects that start to make my plate feel full. Luckily, I don’t feel like I’ll ever consider my main job to be creating video content, meaning that this can be done on an as-I-desire-to basis.

Mondays are usually a day off for me when it comes to writing. So I think that if I want to make a video, Monday will be great for recording and/or editing. I have a long way to go when it comes to creating good looking and sounding videos. Strangely, the YouTube video I uploaded looks and sounds fine when I play it on my laptop. But it doesn’t seem nearly as good when I play it on my work computer. So I have some more adjustments to make before I do my next recording. And while I don’t expect perfection of myself, I’m hoping that with each new video, the quality will continue to increase.

And, while I’m trying not to overdo it, I’m also still working on an educational YouTube concept. We have multiple people involved in this project, including an amateur filmmaker, so quality won’t be the issue it is with my personal videos. The biggest hurdle we have had is in the script writing.

We started out writing scripts for one conception for the show. The concept was fine, but as we continued to talk, the idea grew and became something else. Me and the other script writer were not satisfied with what we wrote for the new concept, so we tabled the idea for a long while. Well, I recently revamped the idea once again and will be writing a new script and presenting it sometime this month. There’s no guarantee that we’ll all like it and agree to green light the project, but I’m hopeful.

Like I said, this is possibly too much for my little mantra, but at the same time it’s something my best friend and I have wanted to do for a long time, and I can’t pass up the opportunity for collaboration—a rarity for book authors like me.

giving you books

Let’s see, editing two completed books, writing two new novels, plus creating content for two YouTube channels . . . Less is more. But more is also more. I’m giving you four books and (hopefully) some AuthorTube content. And I’m giving myself a reasonable schedule, which is why less is more is still my motto for productivity.

Please do let me know your 2020 author (or creative) goals. How do you manage your time? Have you been successful at reaching your goals in the past? Does the concept of less is more ring true for you? Let me know in the comments.

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AuthorTube

 

AuthorTube

 

Hey Word Journeyers! I’ve been wanting to test the waters of the writing community on YouTube for some time now (AKA AuthorTube). However, between moving and livestreaming on Twitch while focusing on completing my novel, I just didn’t get around to it until today.

Well, I actually recorded the video yesterday. To be honest, I had some fancy video editing software and it was totally glitchy and broken. It wouldn’t load most of my recordings and those it did load wouldn’t preview my edits. Then suddenly we were shopping for a house, and I just put it off and put it off some more.

Yesterday (because my streaming software updated and wouldn’t work afterward, giving me some free time) I gave the fancy editing software one more try, even using newer recording equipment. Still no dice. So I downloaded the simpliest free video editing software I could find, and it worked. I can’t do anything terribly fancy, but I don’t need fancy for these videos, especially as a new member of the AuthorTube community.

Click here to watch Randal’s YouTube video:
Zero Draft Done

This first video for AuthorTube is on finishing the zero draft of my novel. I had uploaded an unboxing video when Descriptions of Heaven was released, and have since been a fairly active community member, commenting on a lot of my favorite videos.

The kinds of things I might make videos on include:

  • Writing updates
  • Publication announcements
  • Talking about the writing process
  • AuthorTube tags
  • Livestreams

I just want to thank everyone who does go out of their way to watch the video. And I double my thanks to anyone who likes and subscribes. I really appreciate it. I’m branching out beyond writing and getting my stories published because these kinds of things spark my creativity, not to mention it makes this isolated activity just a bit less lonely.

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WIP Wednesday #6: Zero draft DONE

Work in Progress

Ever watch an author finish writing his book?

Watch Literally writing the last pages of my novel. from RandalEldonGreene on www.twitch.tv

If you clicked my video above, now you have. 

Finishing the book took me a bit longer than I expected. Buying a new house, moving in mid-October, setting up the office, and learning how to begin “professional” livestreaming all took time away from actual writing. But actually write I did, and the book was finished yesterday.

writing with pen

My novel technically began in early 2007, as an idea. It had a lengthy seven-year gestation period before the first words of the book were born. I actually started writing it around September of 2014. So it’s been five years in the making, around twelve years total from concept to paper-draft completion. In time since writing began I got a girlfriend, moved into a rental house, got married, wrote a short story collection, became a first time home buyer, had something like 24 short creative pieces published, and saw my first novel printed by a small press.

decluttering desk

The plan today is to begin typing up my zero draft. First, I’m going to tidy up the chaotic mess that is my desk. I think there is such a thing as creative chaos, and the tendency towards this in my writing space seems to affirm it as a fact. But periodic cleaning is a good thing for focus. And a good time for decluttering is the start of a new chapter. This certainly counts as one for me.

I’m still making small adjustments to my process. This includes how and when I livestream my writing to how and when I work on what. For example, I’ve been putting off my dialogues for a long while now. The novel was imperative. And, truly, it still is. But I need to finish editing my collection of creative conversations sooner than later. What I think I will do is set aside certain hours of a specific day to focus on that and other short fiction projects.
webcam
Livestreaming itself has been an interesting experience. I feel like maybe I should move the livestream to YouTube where there is an existent community of authors and writers. I may attempt a trial of  this in the near future. I’d also like to try making some videos for AuthorTube and see how that goes.

As for livestreaming on Twitch, I’ve found that most Twitch people aren’t there to write, even if they want to hang on my stream. For this reason, my most popular streams have been ones where I’m chatting. Chatting while writing is, naturally, distracting. So I’m adjusting my schedule to make sure I consistently do silent writing streams and also give myself more hours of “private” writing sessions (you know, just regular writing, not in front of a camera). So some of my streams are going to be starting later to make sure my writing isn’t overly interrupted by social sessions. In other words, writing comes first; the stream is there to build community by encourage others and myself to keep at it.
whiksey
I’m also encouraging donations with a Whiskey Wednesday stream, where I’ll be imbibing a drink or two during the writing session. There’s a nicely placed whiskey fund tip jar for those willing to subscribe or donate to the cause of writing drunk and editing sober.

How long will this novel take to edit? That is simply something I cannot be sure of at this juncture. Hopefully less than a year. During the writing of this book, I’ve learned not only a lot about how I write, but how my body desires to write and desires to not write. I don’t experience writer’s block, but I do experience distraction, excuses, the easy pleasures the TV screen and of a book (“just one more chapter” becoming an all-morning read). So in the next phase of this novel, I’ll probably be learning a lot about how I edit something this lengthy. Certainly, I have ample experience editing short fiction, and even my first short novel, but this manuscript is sure to both test and teach me.

It’s a test and a learning experience I’m looking forward to.

firstdraft

Dreaming Your Characters

Dreaming Your Characters

It finally happened. I’ve heard of it from other writers, but I’d never had the experience myself before now.

I dreamed my characters.

Not only that, but I was writing them. It was an odd, but thrilling experience.

dreaming woman

When we dream, our brain does this thing we call sleep spindles. As tuck.com describes them: “sleep spindles are sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity . . . that occur during stage 2 of light sleep. These brainwaves are called sleep spindles because of how they look when printed out on an EEG reading.”

Scientists have linked these sleep spindles to areas of the brain that have been used during the day. So if you do a task for a prolonged period of the day like sewing, teaching a class, shooting hoops, mindless factory work, or writing then your brain “practices” this activity at night in your sleep, giving you sleep spindles in the exact same area of the brain.

Those who sleep talk are oftentimes acting out their sleep spindles. My wife, for example, is a frequent sleep-talker. She is almost always teaching, admonishing kids to quit goofing around, or gabbing with other educators in her sleep.

I imagine that since I’ve been writing even more each day than last year, that my brain has been spending ample time exercising my writing muscles while I sleep.

Dream Catcher

Here’s the thing about sleep spindles and your sleep talking dreams: you shouldn’t be able to remember them. It’s only your rapid eye movement (REM sleep) that you remember. These are typically the more exciting dreams where you’re trying to find something, accomplish a task, get somewhere, are maybe flying, or (if it’s a nightmare) trying to get away from something. In fact, when we talk about dreams and dreaming, we’re almost always talking about REM sleep.

So, while I’ve been brain spindling it up with an increase of 2 to 3 more hours a day at the writing desk this year, it’s still surprising to see my characters come to life in my dreams. While it’s most likely that I was in REM sleep, just the manner of my dream makes me wonder if I hadn’t somehow managed to remember a sleep spindle dream. If I did, then my writing sleep spindles look pretty cool.

sleep spindles

I won’t give every detail, but here’s the gist of the dream: I was dreaming about two of my characters—the two which are the principle characters of the current chapter I’m writing.

Jazzy and Miles were at a white wrought-iron table in an outdoor cafe, and Jazzy was being offered alcohol. I wasn’t in the dream, but I could hear myself narrating what was happening in exactly the same manner that I hear myself think when I write. The scene had to do with whether Jazzy would accept the alcoholic drink or not due to her Christian beliefs which don’t forbid alcohol but do frown on it in practice.

Then my dream switched to a scene with Maha and a more minor character. It’s a parallel scenario with Maha at a wooden table in at a bar and restaurant in the heart of Delhi. In this scene, Maha is having the same issue, except her Islamic beliefs don’t allow her to drink alcohol at all. I again hear my voice narrating the scene and the actions. Like with Jazzy, I can see my character fully, both from a distance and up close. Her face is troubled because she’s in a delicate situation of appearing rude if she doesn’t accept the drink but will be sinning if she does.

Then, suddenly, a line comes to mind that has to do with Miles back at the previous scene. The dream jumps over to Jazzy and Miles who are sitting at the same outdoor table. This one beautiful line flows out of me so intensely that I see it being written in my handwriting at the bottom of the scene below their table. I don’t see my hand, I just see the words appearing in my unique chicken scratch. After this, the dream goes immediately back to Maha’s dilemma, and I wake up right before I’m about to narrate what she decides to do.

Note: neither of these exact scenes appear in my book, but the characters I envisioned do exist in my mind. What was so cool was that they appeared exactly as I picture them. In fact, they seemed even more vivid and lifelike in my dream than they do when I’m writing their story. They looked much more human. The sweat on their brows, the pores on their faces were all clear when the dream was examining them closely.

It was a crazy positive experience that tells me I’m doing something right. And that thing is writing. If I’m writing enough in the day that I spend time writing in my sleep, this means I’m really giving myself over to the thing that I want to do with my life, which is bring a book into existence through words in my mind being transferred onto a page.

Let me know if you’ve ever dreamed about your characters in the comments below.

book and brain

Notes:
All photos except the sleep spindle graph are from Pixabay. The graph is from Goodnights.rest
I also want to make it clear that sleep spindles appear to do more than help us learn. We’re actually still learning about them. Sleep has always fascinated me, and I think sleep spindles and the unconscious processes of learning are some of the most amazing aspects of unconsciousness—even more interesting than REM sleep. What I’ve written above is what I remember about sleep spindles. So do your own research to see what’s new and what other studies might have to say in agreement or opposition to sleep spindle learning.