Viable Paradise: Day 1, Sunday

Note to readers: I won’t be using student names often; mostly to preserve the privacy of my classmates.  When I do use a name, it’ll be first name only.   

So my flight took off late—at about 8:30pm.  I was supposed to have an hour and a half in SFO, which should have been enough time to get a medifast-acceptable dinner.  But it was not; I had only twenty minutes to get to my gate and board the flight to Boston.  Fortunately, I had stashed some extra medifast meals in my shoulder bag just in case this happened, so while I didn’t get the dinner I should have, I didn’t starve.  I slept ok, I think, though the engine noise was present even in my dreams, which made me feel like I hadn’t slept.  And nothing beats being jolted awake by turbulence at 3am.  I had an hour and a half until my bus arrived.  I waited.  I read.  I waited some more.  Then, just as I was getting incredibly bored, I waited even more.  

Finally it arrived, and I began the third leg of the journey.  The ride was quiet and uneventful, though packed.  I met up with one of my VP classmates when he transferred buses, and we rode the final leg of the trip together.   We were picked up in Vineyard Haven by a VP staffer and taken to the hotel, where I got my room key from my roommates and then retired to wash off 18 hours of travel grime.  Once cleaned up, socializing began, and that lasted until 6pm, when the official Viable Paradise program began.  

First was dinner, which was interesting; we tended to group according to room assignments and whomever we’d connected with via Twitter prior to arriving on the island.   The instructors seated themselves throughout the room, getting to know students.   It was a great time, and the students and support staff all did their best to reduce any nervousness we felt.

After dinner was Orientation; we were given our packets of work to critique, some handouts to read, and given the schedule.  We then played Thing, which also goes by the name Mafia and Werewolves.  I won’t go into the details here, but if you really want to know, holler and I’ll clue you in.  Suffice to say: If you’re playing with Steven Brust, don’t believe anything he says—except when he tells you he’s the Thing.  We were also given a small toy, and informed that this is our Doom.  This relates to the Horror that is Thursday, and we’ll learn more tomorrow night.   (I’ll warn you now that I won’t be saying much about the Horror; except to say that for a writer, the Horror is real; if you don’t write, you probably won’t get what was so scary.  Catch me socially and I’ll give you more, but in the spirit of preserving the mystique, I won’t say much here.)

After Thing, my roommates and I went to the staff lounge to read our stories for the first critique group on Monday.  We had just settled in when the instructors filed in with various musical instruments and began to play.  Reluctantly, we trekked back to our room (just down the hall) so we could actually concentrate.   By the time we came up for air, they’d all gone to bed, so we sat in our common room and shot the breeze for a few hours.  

My roomies and I are the California contingent; Alex hails from Berkeley, and Beth from Pasadena.   They’re both fairly younger than I am at 28, but we got along really well, so we went to bed ridiculously late.  

One thing I’d like to say about the instructors (and the staff) is that they are insanely disarming.  Within moments of meeting Steven Brust I’d realized that this is not going to be the kind of workshop where the Pros dispense wisdom to the aspiring writers from on high.  The jokes fly fast and furious, and while there is definitely an awareness that the instructors have knowledge and technique to impart, they are doing so from right beside us.  They make it very clear that they do care about us not just as students, but as prospective colleagues in the SF/F field.  They also disagree sometimes, and watching them argue teaches as much as listening to the lectures does.  

How’m I doing? Well, lemme tell ya…

Let’s let the title of the blog guide this update.

Writing

It’s going.  Being accepted to Viable Paradise gave me some faith in myself, but that only really boosted me for a week or so, then it came back to forcing myself to work when I’d rather be in the hammock reading, or playing video games, or going to movies.  But I’m writing.

Yesterday I worked all day and came up with only 300 words, partly because I just couldn’t get the words to flow, but also because I had to take some time off for business–setting appointments for my daughter with the doctor, buying groceries, cleaning the disaster in the kitchen.  Later, when my wife and daughter went out shopping, and then after daughter went to bed and wife went to a friend’s place, I wrote an additional 1200 words.  So in all, my total for the day was about 1500 words.  Not quite my preferred quota, but nothing to sneeze at, either.  I just wish it hadn’t effectively taken all day.  Those dragons in Skyrim won’t stop themselves, you know.

Looking forward to having my brain ripped apart and my ego crushed and (hopefully) rebuilt at VP in October.

Fiddling

Not happening.  I keep telling myself I need to practice more, as my skills have atrophied to the point that I’m probably worse than I was back in May.  It’s not that I don’t want to practice, and I realize this sounds like an excuse, but it’s difficult when I’m almost never alone.  My daughter is not really very good yet at giving me time, so practice is frustrating beyond all reason as she interrupts every thirty seconds.  So I try to practice when I’m alone–which is about two days a week.  Still, I need to make the time.  I lost the ability I had as a kid, and if I want to get it back, I need to practice.  But knowing it, and doing it, are two different things for me right now.

Teaching

I’m both excited and scared of my classes this year.  I was given a pretty hefty schedule teaching four preps, which is messy and ought to be avoided.

For those among you who don’t know teacher jargon, a “prep” can mean either a break–a class period in which you don’t teach a class–or a subject you’re teaching.  So when I say that my Prep period is 6th, that’s the latter meaning, but when I say I’m teaching four preps, that’s the latter.   Usually teachers aren’t supposed to have more than three preps, which is already pushing things in my opinion, as each prep is a separate task of planning, support, and teaching.  But, to be honest, it’s better than teaching four sections of one class in a row–that can be sapping on one’s nerves, especially when all four classes are reading the same thing at the same time.

This year I’m teaching Journalism, Advanced English 10 (sophomores), English 12 (yay!), and three sections of English 9.  I love teaching English 12, even with the Senior Project requirement.  I wish I had another section or two of that, but ah well.   This year’s seniors–well, 150 of them, at least–were also my Freshmen, so I’m looking forward to this year’s graduation, but that’s practically forever away, so I try not to think about it too much.

All in all, I think I’m doing pretty well.  How’re you?

Short Update

42nd Birthday over.  I was very very drunk.  I regret that, not because I did anything stupid, but because the recovery took too long.  My body has spoken: I am too old to drink like that.  

School year is almost over.  Thank the Nine. 

Writing final exams and cleaning out my classroom this week.  Next week review and cleaning out my classroom.  Then finals. Then Anniversary weekend.  

Then writing, and caring for my child, and cleaning the house and catching up on maintenance tasks I’ve neglected for too long.  But a lot of writing.  Because I need to finish this book, and move on to the next.  

Above all: No more excuses.  Either I write or I don’t.  No explaining why; nobody cares, least of all me.  

The Best Writing Advice EVER

Novelist Myke Cole, author of the Shadow Ops series, linked via twitter to this blog post by novelist Chuck Wendig.  Now, I haven’t read anything Wendig has written other than this post, but based only on this, I’m going to have to check his stuff out.  Because it’s the best advice ever.

In a nutshell, and phrased FAR less entertainingly than Wendig does, the advice essentially says “Write 350 words a day.”  That’s it.  He points out that at 350/day, assuming you write 5 days a week, you’ll have a 91,000-word novel in one year.

Of course, it’s easier said than done.  I’ve been working on it, and so far there are only a couple of days I haven’t managed it.  But on the days I did?  My word count grew by 2000 words.  One day I did not just 350, but 900.  Not bad.

I’m challenging myself to continue to write 350 words a day.  And I pass that challenge on to you.

No bullshit.  No “I have fifty things to do.”  EVERYONE has fifty things to do.

No “my kids need me.” Write when they go to bed.  Write when you realize you’re watching reality TV and there are better things to do.  Write before you go to bed. Write when you first wake up.  Write when the world is quiet but your brain won’t shut up and the moon is laughing at you.  Write when the storm rages outside.  Write on the deck when the world is being kind, write in your bed when the world is being cruel.

WRITE.

I am.  Are you?

Viable Paradise, Non-Viable Writer?

So I finished my app packet for Viable Paradise XVII.  The application deadline is in June, I worked hard to get it ready NOW, and now that it’s done, I’m seriously considering just saying “No, never mind,” going back to the keyboard, and moving on.  

I honestly don’t know if this is “You’re not good enough” syndrome (THANKS, MOM!), or “What’s the point, you don’t need it anyway, why even bother,” or just that I’m sick and can’t think straight right now.  I’m not even sure it matters, to be honest.  

Actually, I know what it is.  I just honestly don’t think I’m that good.  I think I have moments of brilliance, pages where the words just WORK.  But most of the time, I’m terribly unhappy with my work, and I look at it and consider it to be shit.  And seriously, what’s the point of it if I can never look at it and think it’s worth the work I put into it?  I get ideas, and they seem awesome, and then I start to work on them, and it doesn’t matter if I’m just freestyling it or if I take weeks and months to lay out the groundwork before starting composition, I just… fizzle.  I feel like, even if I was accepted to VP, even if I went, I’d just sit there all night trying to write, knowing I had to share my work in the morning, and type out nothing but useless dribble.  And that’s even assuming I was accepted; which, to be honest, is a long shot.  

Half the time, I’m convinced I could do it. I’m convinced I could write for a living. The other half the time, I’m convinced I’m just a reader who wishes he could do it like the pros.  

So, yeah.  Here I am, in a holding pattern.  

On teaching, and writing, and why the one is interfering with the other

Still working on the VP17 submission, though with slightly less enthusiasm once I realized that if accepted, I’ll have to convince the wife it’s worth doing.  But meh.  Cross that road when and if I come to it, not before.

Steven Gould‘s third book in the Jumper universe, Impulse, is out.  It’s on my kindle, but I haven’t yet begun it, mostly because I’m halfway through Gaiman’s American Gods, and loving it.  Why didn’t I read AG before?  I don’t know!

Finals are coming up.  This is scary.  My tests are written, but I am so far behind on grading it’s just sad.  I need to spend most of my time on that right now, which means my own writing isn’t happening.  Sometimes I’m really pissed off that I teach English; why didn’t I choose something with less essay writing at the high school level?  I sometimes long for a desk job.

Late Night Revelations about my work…

Laying in bed, I realized what was missing in my novel–again–and began formulating ways to improve it.  As I fell asleep, my thoughts became my dream, and I experienced a scene that I simply must put in the book–cleaned up, of course; I don’t think the guy doing the pommel horse routine nude needs to be in the book, nor does the Klingon I saw in the background.  But the core of the scene, a discussion between two old friends that devolves–or is that evolves?–into a moment of revelation as to the greater plot even as it ends the friendship forever, is pretty golden.  When I woke up (thanks, cats), I quickly got up and jotted down some notes, then stumbled back into bed.  My notes are a mess, but they point the way.  

AWESOME.  Now I just need to find the time to write it.  

Progress: not much, but it’s there.

I have been working on a scene that I just couldn’t make work.  And I couldn’t leave it alone to come back to it later, even though there is plot after the scene that I have mapped out pretty well.  It just bugged me so much that every time I left it behind to work on the next scene, I’d get antsy and need to go look at it again.  

Last night, I finally cracked it.  It was a tricky exposition scene in which I needed to introduce a few characters, and it didn’t make sense to introduce one, then move on to another in a later scene, repeat until they’re all there.  It only really made sense for the narrator (I’m working in first person, which started out being awesome, and is now killing me, and I’m seriously wondering if it would make sense to rework the first two chapters into third person) to mention them all in the same scene.  I finally managed to come up with a conversation that simultaneously introduced everyone the reader hadn’t met yet, gave some personality handles for each one, and came off as natural conversation. 

WHEW. 

No More Excuses

I keep making excuses why I can’t write.  Too busy.  Kid needs my attention.  Too tired.  

Note to self: STOP IT. Just STOP.  You are NEVER going to publish, or even get close to it, if you don’t suck it up and finish the damned book.  And you probably won’t get this one published, either, but do you think you’re going to get there if you don’t finish one first?  You’re learning craft as you go.  Whether this one is published or not is largely irrelevant.  What matters is that you write.  

Thank the Nine! And the One!

Nothing like a little gratuitous geek reference.

Well, my admin finally ironed out the issue with my fifth period class, and now it’s a much more manageable 35 kids.  Mind you, I’d prefer it was more like 25, but we can’t have everything, and small classes are a rarity these days.  But the kids seem pretty good, and even after lunch they got right to work for me, so all is well, in the end. 

I’m hoping I can get some writing done tonight.  We’ll see.