Justin Cawthorne dot com

read, write, ramble

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November 20: Unexcitement

I’ve reached a point of unexcitement – which won’t surprise anyone who’s kept up with this blog over the last few weeks. Nothing is bad or wrong, but neither is anything terribly exciting at the moment. My #childfree weekends have plateaued into banal spare time; the various TV shows that I was enjoying have entered a mid-season. No Man’s Land. Meanwhile, I’ve probably bought all the Bluetooth light bulbs I could possibly need.

Life is good but, as I wrote a while back, it has slipped into routine. I have every faith that things will turn around: I always find the Christmas break to bring a useful energy and sense of renewal. If nothing else, I imagine the end of the year will be heartily celebrated.

I’m also lucky in that I don’t demand much out of life. Just a few simple pleasures here and there: a good meal now and then; a nice glass of wine; an inspiring movie or novel. Yes, very first world, but here I am.

Give me time. Things will come good again πŸ™‚

November 19: to do …

One of the things my friends occasionally do is share their to do lists. I like this because it also helps motivate me: if my friends can get a few things done off their lists, then surely so can I!

So I did myself a to do list this weekend (and forgive my handwriting):

(click for a larger version)

And, if you’re wondering, here’s how I did:

November 18: Kids

One of the most important things to me is ensuring that my kinderbesten grow up to be functioning, responsible, awesome adults that will be a positive influence in the lives of the people that they meet in the future. I likely don’t work as hard on this as I should, but it’s something that constantly informs the way I interact with my children.

Today I had the pleasure of watching my kids spend the afternoon with two of their friends: children whose parents have gone all out to help them grow into fully awesome little people. It was great to see how they all interacted and took their cues from each other. They would play games when they wanted to play; go out on the trampoline when they wanted some fresh air; take some quiet time when they needed it; and play chase when they picked up a bit more energy. In short, they were functioning like little adults: completely self-managing. Probably better than adults, in fact.

One of the most rewarding things was watching the Elderbeast take his cues from his friends: if they didn’t want to do something, he was happy to accept that; when they were ready to play, he was ready to join in. It’s a marked difference to the way he often is around other people. Clearly there was something about being around these kids that really brought out the best in him.

It’s nice to have a bit of hope for the future once in a while.

November 17: Variety

One of the tricks I’ve developed to maintain interest in my writing is to have a few different things on the go at any one time. This means that if I get stuck on one story, then I’ve typically got another one to keep going with. If I don’t fancy writing fiction one morning, I’ve usually got some non-fiction projects to spend my time on.

At the moment I’ve got three major projects to occupy myself with. One is these diary posts. While I typically write these during the evenings (mid-week evenings, if you really wanted to know) I occasionally use a morning here and there to catch up when needed.

I also have a super secret podcast project, which gives me an excuse to write ridiculous nonsense whenever I have a need to do that. Which is more often than not.

Finally, obviously, I have my stories. My usual process is that I (typically) write the first three drafts of each story during my morning shifts. I will then let them sit for a while and tweak them as needed during random late night editing sessions. However, at the moment, I’ve got some stories that just won’t quite work so I’ve been hammering away at multiple drafts of some of those in the morning, while also trying to get some new ideas off the ground.

There are downsides and benefits. The benefit is that I always have something to write when I get up in the morning. The downside is that, despite the discipline of writing [almost] every day, I still don’t have a very discipline approach to what I’m actually writing.

Ah well, it’s not as if I’m earning a living out of this …

November 16: Racing to the end

One of the stories I’m working on at the moment is a teeny, tiny horror short about a man driving home one night only to be relentlessly pursued by a wall of darkness. Aside from needing to find a hundred different ways to say ‘darkness’, it’s not a particularly deep or challenging tale: there’s just the one character; there’s no underlying theme. It’s simple.

And, yet, it’s taking me ages.

I sat down this morning, with the end of the first draft in sight, and still didn’t manage to finish it. The first draft is, for me, the biggest obstacle to feeling satisfied with my writing. It’s the raw clay from which I shape my final story and, of course, it’s always going to be crap. It’s the [seemingly] insurmountable wall between the perfec] story that I have in your head and the [hopefully decent] story that I finally publish.

After several years of trying to perfect every paragraph before I moved on, and having my stories taking actual years before reaching completion, I realised that the best thing I could do was get on with writing my first drafts quickly and crudely. I find editing much easier than writing. The downside to this is that I will always have a terrible first draft hanging over me, and I need to keep telling myself that the final piece will be much, much better.

That’s what I was trying to do today: race towards the end of my first draft. I just couldn’t quite get there. I blame the fact that there’s a twist in the end, and I need some brainspace to work out how to construct it properly. Consequently those last few paragraphs probably need a writing session all of their own.

(Spoiler: I did, in fact, finish the first tomorrow)

November 15: on NOT writing

They say that ‘real writers’ write every day. I call bullshit. I think it’s important–if you want to be a full time writer–to have the sort of passion that compels you to write every day, but you’ve also got to know when to have a break so you can keep that flame alive.

One of the worst experiences as a writer–at least, in my experience as a writer–is trying to write but finding that the words either don’t come, or they’re rubbish. It can really douse that passion and leave you in fear of returning to that keyboard. The other not-so-cool thing is writing because you feel you Have To Write. I worry about doing that: about developing a really good, disciplined writing habit and then realising that I’m simply not enjoying it any more.

It’s for this reason that I get up to write every day … except Saturday. It’s the morning where I allow myself a tiny lie in, where I drop the pressure a little, and generally come back fully charged on the Sunday morning–just burning to write something again.

It’s also partly the reason why I took this morning off. The results of the (Australian) same sex marriage survey were due to be announced right around when I would be just be starting my morning shift. I knew I’d be thoroughly distracted, would probably end up with a really low word count and wouldn’t like the words much anyway. So I gave myself a free day off.


November 14: [un]Breaking a story

Today I tried to break apart a story I’ve been struggling with for about the last six months. It’s been through a few drafts, has been effectively finished for some time now, and has twice as many words that I’ve deleted than I’ve kept. But it’s just not quite right.

Briefly, it’s a sci-fi story about an engineer on a cargo ship who finds … something. And it changes her. The rest of the [very small] crew debate whether she’s been infected with something or not. It plays happily with some Alien type tropes, but waits until the end to tell us what’s really going on.

At first I thought one of the problems might be the shifting point of view. The first few scenes are told from the Engineer’s POV; then the rest of the story is presented from the other crew members’ POVs. This is more or less necessary to maintain the sense of mystery (I tried a few early drafts that continued from the Engineer’s POV, but it muddied the story since we don’t yet know what’s happening to her). This shifting POV bugged me a little, however, since the story kicks off with a great lead character, and then we shunt her into the background for the rest of narrative. I eventually decided that this was probably ok, so long as there’s a big focus on how my lead character has affected those other characters.

Which brings me to how, exactly, does she affect those characters? There’s a major theme in the story of loss; so I needed a way for my supporting characters to echo that, while ensuring that their relationship with the lead character provides a degree of either catalysis or catharsis. I remembered that one of the characters reflects on his mother at one point, so the obvious thing there was to extend this into that character grieving over his mother. My other POV character is older–the captain of the ship, in fact–so flipping the same idea around and having him mourning a lost daughter provide a nice parallel, while adding a dimension to his relationship with the younger, female Engineer.

So far, so good. A few little things to add here and there.

Conversely, the final change is to trim the end of the story a bit. The current version has a couple of scenes that wrap up some loose ends, but what really needs to happen is for us to return to our lead character. I reckon most readers will thank me for trimming away some exposition in favour if bringing us back to the lead character and the overall point of the story. A nip and a tuck here and the plot structure should be as tight as the characterisation.

And, hopefully you’ll all get the chance to judge whether I made the right call sooner or later πŸ˜‰

November 13: Writing slump

I’m going through a bit of a writing slump lately. I’m still writing. I’m doing these blog posts. I’m writing content for my Super Secret Podcast Project. I’m getting up every morning to write stories, but I’m either not hugely excited about them, or I’m struggling to work out how to do them justice.

It might just be the time of year–I never seem to do well when the seasons change. Hopefully it’ll pass, but in an effort to try and push through it a bit, I’ve decided that each of this week’s posts will focus on my writing.

Starting with this one.

Which has just ended.

November 12: New routines

Today was a #childfree Sunday and really crystallised something I’ve been aware of for the much of the last month: the novelty is starting to wear off a little. I’m tending to miss the kinderbesten a bit more over these weekends, I’m finding less that needs doing around the house (or that I can be bothered doing). I’m–dare I say it–getting a little bored …?

I’m still relishing the opportunity to have some time to myself, but I feel that it’s time to take a fresh approach to these weekends. The ‘time off’ has become unfulfilling in it’s own right, which means it’s time to find stuff to fill the time with. Right? It’s time for some new routines.

I don’t know what those routines are. I just know that I don’t want to slip into wasting these weekends by aimlessly pottering around the house, or watching whatever comes to mind to fill the time.

Watch this space …

November 11: Presents

Today I sort of accidentally did a bunch of Christmas shopping. Every year I am traditionally terrible at Christmas shopping, usually leaving it to the last minute and never having the faintest clue what to get anyone.

That’s still mostly true, but I’ve done Christmas shopping for the Kinderbesten now. The Big Main presents for the Kinderbeast happened a little while a go thanks to me carpeing the diem out of some online sales. The Elderbeast’s Big Main present was also sorted thanks to him agreeing to put some of his birthday and Christmas cash towards a new laptop (and me then ordering said laptop).

That still left ‘stocking fillers’, for which I approached the local mall with a partial list in mind–for each beast: a cuddly toy; a book; a movie; and something ‘crafty’. Of course, it wasn’t that easy. Saturday morning shopping quickly proved to be 10% inspiration, and 90% “why am I not doing this online???”

So I grabbed some cuddly toys, some LEGO, and a few other moment-of-inspiration knick-knacks, and fled home, where I ordered some books and movies online to finish off the package.

True, I still need to buy literally everyone else’s presents, but the kinderbesten are all sorted – and it’s not even December!

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