Measuring Writing Progress: Beyond NaNo

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, and its offshoots are wonderful. Many novelists have gotten their starts with NaNo or have made use of it to great effect later in their development, and it’s that second part I want to talk a little more about.

NaNo is designed to target one particular writing problem that afflicts a huge percentage of people, particularly beginning writers, and it targets it very effectively: that challenge is actually writing.

NaNo is built with tools to give you access to a community of fellow writers to help you through or keep you on track. It gives pep talks to keep you going. It gives you a deadline that isn’t fungible. What it’s especially known for is keeping track of your word count, how many words you’ve written that day, how many you have left, and how many you need to write each day on average to hit that mark.

In essence, it provides a support system to teach people how to write novels in the sense of literally sitting down and producing words.

Here’s an incomplete list of what NaNo doesn’t teach:

  • Writing craft.
  • Finishing.
  • Editing.
  • Pacing (yourself, as a writer).
  • Adaptability.

This is not a flaw with NaNo–it’s not trying to teach these things, and targeting a particular and wide audience is smart! But it’s worth noting that the tools it teaches for writers who need help just finally getting the story in their heads out are not always still useful to that same writer as they evolve.

Which is to say, if you’re serious about writing, NaNo’s tools probably will not continue working for you forever, at least not without some changes. This is good–it means you’re growing. So if you’re not meeting a NaNo goal, or if you’re struggling to meet it, don’t beat yourself up about it. The set of tools it’s teaching may not be what you need to learn, and you’re the only one who can judge that.

Let me give some specifics, because one of the things NaNo has been great at is undercutting all the excuses people make for all the reasons they can’t write a novel. (In particular, being busy. Everyone is busy. But I digress.)

Traditional NaNo sets the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month. Plenty of people can figure out how to manage this for one month by putting a lot of other life to the side. Learning how to prioritize writing is useful, but if the things you’re putting aside are your share of chores, doctor’s appointments, or things you do for fun and your emotional well-being? They can’t be put off indefinitely. Ultimately that hurts the writing by hurting the writer. So people who want to make writing a consistent part of their lives often benefit by not setting a goal this high–not because it’s unattainable, but because it’s unsustainable.

Camp NaNo is an iteration of traditional NaNoWriMo in spring and summer that has more flexibility. You can set whatever word count goal you like, or you can set a goal in terms of hours worked on the project, the latter of which is very useful if you’re primarily editing.

(Because editing typically does not produce consistent increases in word count, it can be harder to measure and track productivity. This isn’t how I personally measure editing progress, but it’s a great adaptation for NaNo.)

Unfortunately, you can’t select both hours and words, so this doesn’t work well if you’re writing one project and editing another. This April I’d set a writing goal, but even knowing I’d been editing for a week, looking at the flat section of the bar graph made me feel like I hadn’t been working.

NaNo also doesn’t teach writers how to manage multiple deadlines. If you have more than one ongoing project, and one becomes a rush job, everything else in your schedule has to shift to accommodate. I had to change my word count goal in April for a similar reason, and it was hard not to feel like that wasn’t a kind of failure. Not because NaNo’s word count tracking system didn’t allow me to change my ultimate goal, but because it couldn’t account for the context involved.

The same is true if you’re collaborating, or an editor’s schedule changes, or you have publicity commitments. It’s not just life that affects your writing schedule: it’s other realities of writing.

And, like with editing, often writers aren’t trying to get just any words on the page. They’re trying to get the right ones. NaNo teaches people to produce, and that is very useful, but only to a point. People who are serious about writing will at some point need to move beyond this one way of measuring progress, because it’s designed to measure a particular kind of progress. I already know I can produce lots of words quickly, so a system designed to encourage that locks me into a pattern that makes me feel like I’m making progress rather than helping me grow in different ways.

Exactly when you need to learn other tools to keep yourself on track, and what tools those should be, varies for every individual person and sometimes for different projects. I still use elements of NaNo word count tracking in my own projects, because it’s a great jumping-off point–deadline motivation works particularly well for me. But it’s elements, adapted to my needs. NaNo is a great template for a starter system; it’s not the be all and end all.

If you’ve found NaNo restrictive or unhelpful–or even easy–consider what you’re trying to use it for, and consider if it’s serving your interests. It’s great for specific uses–namely, again, actually writing–but context matters. If you already know how to reliably get words written, NaNo metrics alone probably aren’t what you need. Don’t set yourself up to fail by forcing yourself to use a system designed to solve problems that aren’t your primary concern.

It’s not failure if you can’t reach a system’s goals when the system isn’t designed to work for you. As with any writing advice: take what helps you and discard the rest. And know that as you evolve as a writer, your process will too.

The greatest challenge to my writing process is these two cats being unreasonably adorable in my office.

Folder Structure for Novelists

A bunch of people have asked me about how I keep track of ongoing novel projects. I can pick up a project after months away and tell you exactly what stage it’s in and what I need to do next. I know exactly where to find every file or piece of information from any stage in the process, which is incredibly useful because novel projects are complicated.

For these parts of novel project management, the key is folder structure.

It’s the basis for how I organize all my notes, drafts, and anything else related to the process of writing, editing, and sending out a novel: where to store files, what to save, what to name them, all of that.

I applied this method to my writing projects out of necessity/rage after one project that spanned several years for which I’d create a new system of organization every time I picked it back up. Nothing was standardized. I was always unable to find what I needed to work on particular parts but knew that work existed somewhere. It was a mess, and it made a project that was already unpleasant for other reasons maddening.

I also worked as a project manager for a while, and I swear this is one of the easiest, stupidest, most useful things I learned.

So here’s how I do this.

The first stupid trick is to number your folders. This keeps the folders, and the progress of your work, in chronological order. Eventually, the project folder looks like this:

But you don’t set all the folders up right away; you create folders as you progress to each subsequent step, which helps track where you are in the process.

So start with 0, which I inventively call “BG” for background. Every one of my background folders has been organized differently depending on the needs of the project, but this folder is for general information you may need to refer to at any stage in the process. This is where my world-building notes go, for instance, since I’ll need them during drafting and editing. (It’s also where information goes before I’m at later stages but already have, say, notes on potential beta readers or agents to query.)

When you’re ready to start writing, the next folder is for your first draft (“1 First Draft”). This is where material you’re using and/or changing while working on your initial draft goes. If you’re using an outline from the background folder, copy it in here; that way you can make changes to it while you draft, but you’ll still have the original in your 0 folder if you mess it up.

The only file that has to be in this folder is the manuscript draft file you’re currently editing. Title your manuscript file something basic, even if it’s not the actual title, and STICK WITH IT, because it helps with the next stupid trick:

Numbering versions. It seems obvious. But it can also be easy to think, “Oh, I’ll definitely remember this is the most recent one.” DON’T FALL FOR IT. NUMBER YOUR VERSIONS. Know which is the most recent version, and still keep your previous ones so you can go back to them if needed.

(Please do not comment about how superior you think Scrivener is for doing this for you. Thanks in advance.)

After my first draft, I create a new folder for the initial clean-up pass for general grammar/spelling and anything I already know needs to be fixed, copying the last draft from the first draft folder and the ongoing notes I’ve inevitably made for myself of things I already know to fix.

Why not just do this in the first draft folder? Because this isn’t initial drafting. This is editing, and I want a record of when changes occurred and why. If I decide not to make changes I thought I needed during the first draft, I note that; if I later decide I had it right the first time, or I need to reconsider, I still have that text.

My next step is to solicit feedback from beta readers. You copy your cleaned-up draft into this folder and, if the file name didn’t already include the actual title and your name, rename it. You also want a new folder for this step to copy in other files, like the list of beta readers to contact and what in particular, if anything, I’ve asked them to focus on.

(I may do another post on this later, but those questions can include things like, ‘Is the romance between these two characters working?’ or ‘Were you confused about any of the world-building?’ Down the road, I’ve found it useful to see what I was worried about in earlier drafts.)

And this is the final, important, stupid folder structure tip, which is: save everything in your folder structure. Everything.

If you get feedback from a beta reader, don’t just save the file with track changes they sent you, save the additional comments they wrote in their emailed response. Keep everything in one place. Yes, your email probably saves it, and we can talk about email folder structure another time. But the less searching and clicking around you have to do, the fewer barriers (including lack of internet connectivity) there are to your workflow, and the easier it is to keep track of everything.

I start my feedback folder by making a folder for each reader who’s confirmed they’ll get back to me, and it progresses something like this.

Do you see how this works? Just glancing at the folder I know exactly who to follow up with if I haven’t heard back from them by the requested deadline. (The 0s in front of the Canceled and Received folders keep them easy to visually separate, rather than mixed among the alphabetical list of names.)

Incidentally, if you need recommendations for awesome female characters from SFF novels published in 2017 to nominate for awards, I’ve got you covered. =D

I’m not going to keep going through folder by folder; you get the idea. To review, the basic principles are:

  • Number folders (and versions) in chronological order.
  • Internal consistency is your friend.
  • Create a separate folder for each new stage in the process.
  • Save and document everything in your folder structure.

Have questions? Let me know in the comments!

Bring on 28

This year is a wrap! Let me review what I’ve been up to.

 

I did finish editing AFTERSTORMS. It’s on submission, and so far that’s going well. I drafted one new book this year, which I consider the bare minimum; I aim for two in a year. There are a couple reasons I didn’t make that goal this year.

 

The first is that I moved. Not just moved, but set up an entirely new house. There were a number of challenges even getting into the house, and I will spare you those details, but suffice it to say a lot of unnecessary time was spent dealing with the consequences of the developing company’s questionable management. And then there was actually moving–sorting, packing, trashing–as well as acquiring a lot of furnishings besides. Here’s a teaser:

 

Ground Floor, with Bonus Cat!
Ground Floor, with Bonus Cat!

 

Now that I’m a little settled I’ll post about that more, but going from zero to fully outfitted house before hosting twelve people (including the first meeting of parents for my partner and me O_O) for Thanksgiving took some doing. It wasn’t that long ago I lived in a 390 square foot apartment; fully furnishing an empty house (to my satisfaction) just plain took a lot of time. (It’s never just about the big pieces of furniture; it’s the half a dozen small trash cans for various rooms.) But I’m really happy with it, and the space feels like mine, and that matters a lot to me.

 

The second reason is that I’m in the process of doing a serious revision on one of my novels, more extensive than any I’ve done before. Normally a round of edits takes me one month; this is going to take considerably longer. The revision is alternately exciting and terrifying. It’s a good thing I’ve leveled way up at editing in the last couple years, because it’s going to take a lot to pull this off.

 

On the bright side, not finishing another novel this year doesn’t hurt my long-term writing plans (I keep having to remind myself of this). I’ve reached the point where I’m literally finishing novels faster than agents can finish considering them, and unlike with short fiction there’s no benefit to shopping multiple novels around at once.

 

Which is not to say I’ve slacked off by any means! But this is as good a time as any to have a sizable revision project. And I’m also taking this opportunity to set the wheels in motion for another, sort of novel-adjacent writing project. I’m trying some new things with this one that I’m really excited about, and I hope I’ll have it enough underway to start telling the world about it soon.

 

And of course the real reason for this post: annual birthday flying adventures are still happening! For my 28th birthday flying adventure, I went ziplining in Thailand. The ziplining trip also included some abseiling, so it’s practically a double win.

 

Mid-ziplining selfie!
Mid-ziplining selfie!
Mid-abseiling selfie!
Mid-abseiling selfie!

 

The reason I went to Thailand was not specifically to go ziplining for my birthday. For years I’ve been seeing pictures of Yi Peng, a lantern festival, and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

 

I have no good pictures, lighting being what it was. I released a lantern lifted by the smoke of its own fire into the sky, and from any distance I could see the trail of released lanterns like a river of stars climbing into the night. But my friends (thank you, Nicole and Christian!) did manage to get a picture of me at the festival worth sharing.

 

This is me, having done everything right to get the lantern ready but still terrified I’m about to set something on fire and going for it anyway:

 

Yes, that's a metaphor.
Yes, that’s a metaphor.

 

Getting this trip together took a lot of doing, but I’m so glad I went; having the privilege of participating in Yi Peng is not something I’ll forget. But there has been more than one occasion this year where I’ve wondered if the universe was spiting me for daring to imagine I could organize my life and have things actually go as planned. Moving was one, and this Thailand trip was another.

 

It all worked out. But if I’ve learned nothing else this year, it’s that you do the work, as well as you can, and that matters, and sometimes life goes sideways anyway. It’s important to take precautions, but it’s just as important to know when to take a leap and go for it.

 

In any year wrap-up it would be disingenuous to neglect to mention that this recent election has made me angry and afraid, and I have a long habit of being goaded into action by anger. Amidst everything else I’m taking some time now to start figuring out how I’m going to cope with the election aftermath. There’s an alarming amount of work to do. It still matters. And I will be a part of that. I will do what I can to fight.

 

Next year I’ll also be finding a new job–that’s a whole other story, but the bottom line is while this state of affairs is suboptimal in the short term in the long term I’ll be better off. I’ll research and plan the shit out of it, because that’s what I do. Then I’ll take a leap, and I’ll roll with whatever unexpected challenges it brings. Which is not, really, so different from how I write. Here’s hoping I can make some happy news happen next year.

Third Annual Flying Birthday Report

It’s now been two years since I took a leap (well, more of a roll out of the plane) and really committed to putting myself and my writing first. Continuing the flying tradition, for my 27th birthday I decided to try out a wind tunnel, which I highly recommend.

wind tunnel 1

Throughout various adventuring, I have learned that it behooves me to warn guides about two things in advance:

a) My skull, while unusually hard, is tinier than they really think it is.

Here I am wearing an actually child-sized helmet.
Here I am wearing an actually child-sized helmet.

 

b) My back is unreasonably bendy.

ziplining
When I ran out of momentum while ziplining and had to pull myself the rest of the way, I ended up alarming my poor guides.

 

In the wind tunnel, it didn’t matter how well I held position or how straight I kept my legs; because I was essentially doing an upside down backbend, I was constantly drifting backwards.

upside down bridge

Good times, good times.

And thus I finished out my second year of putting my writing first in my life.

I haven’t been good about blogging this year, so I thought I’d recap how this has been going.

The first year after quitting my fulltime job was largely about figuring out how to best arrange my life to support my writing, as opposed to finding a job that allowed me to write on the side. That’s a subtle distinction, but for me it’s been an important one.

I will probably always be adjusting. I changed part-time jobs again for various reasons, and the one I currently have — working at a root beer store and doing way more than is technically in my job description — is so far working the best of anything I’ve tried, so I am hopeful.

Last year was a learning year, and I knew it would be. I went into year two with such grand plans for implementing all the things I’d learned, but of course life, right?

First, I attended four weddings (plus related events) that included five out-of-town trips.

we1 we2 we3 we4 we5 we6 we7 we8

I am delighted for all of my newly married friends, but there were So. Many. Weddings.

I only went to three cons this year, but with Christmas that brings my total of out-of-town trips to nine. Each trip required varying degrees of work, from researching and writing presentations to herding bridesmaids and coordinating travel plans. Not only did this create some logistical and financial stress, it also cut into writing time. The problem wasn’t just the trips themselves, but the fact that a lot of them happened back-to-back (for instance, June included back-to-back trips to Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Minneapolis). Catching up on all the things I had to push while I wasn’t physically present to deal with them impacted my schedule more than I’d anticipated.

Second, I moved. And not only did I move, I plan to move again. There has been a lot of time spent physically moving things, picking out design items (be it duvet covers for the bed I have now or countertops for the place I will have), and all of the usual hassle.

In my defense, I basically knew about these events in advance and blocked out three months in my writing schedule on the assumption that life would happen. In practice, it’s ended up encroaching a little more than that, but I’m basically on track.

By “on track,” I mean that my current goal is to complete two novels every year.

For me, completing a novel now includes the initial drafting of the manuscript, time for at least two full rounds of beta readers to have a crack at it, thorough rounds of edits after I collect all the feedback, assembling the submission packet, and getting the final draft out the proverbial door.

I can draft a novel in about two months once I get going. Each round of edits takes me about a month. Even leaving some time for when life causes my schedule to go awry, that puts me at a pretty good noveling pace.

In theory, while I wait for beta readers’ feedback, I work on writing or editing a different novel. In practice this year instead I was usually at weddings while waiting for feedback, which skewed my schedule and left me with a lot of months of back-to-back editing.

But I’ve just about gotten myself on the schedule I want to be on: I’ve just finished the first post-beta round of edits on one novel; I’ll draft a new novel next; then I’ll do the second round of edits on the previous novel; then the first round of edits on the new novel; then I draft another new novel. And so on.

Of course, if I do get a publishing contract that will probably blow the Master Plan out of the water, but that is still to be hoped for and I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

At the moment I have a YA space opera novel (teenagers piloting mechas in space battles) out on submission that has been getting positive responses from industry professionals so far. And if that novel doesn’t get me an agent, well, I’ll have another novel ready to go in a few more months.

I’m really excited about the latest novel (which is unusual given that I just finished editing the thing, which normally leaves me feeling =/): it’s a secondary world urban fantasy starring a woman who is a professional mage and adventurer and also the single mother of a teenage daughter.

Overall, my writing grows increasingly tight with every novel, I’m better organized all around, be it in terms of story structure or work schedule, and I’ve gotten hugely better at editing. I’ve learned how to better set schedules for myself — they have to be mildly unreasonable to give me something to reach for, but not too unreasonable or the whole thing collapses. So far I haven’t blown a single editing deadline, though, so my current methods of organization and motivation are working as they should be.

Basically, everything is going well! There have obviously been bumps, but I have this writing/paying-work/spending-time-with-other-humans/recharging-in-cave-time stuff reasonably well-balanced at the moment.

And now I get to start working on a new novel =D. Onward to further adventures!

Arranging Spaces

I AM DONE MOVING AT LAST.

The move happened more suddenly than I expected, and it happened at the same time my workload about doubled. Because of course it did. It had to happen gradually to fit in my work, which seems like it ought to be less stressful, but in reality it left me split, having to keep track of which of my things were where and driving all across town. And feeling disorganized, caught in-between states, took more of a toll on me.

This is my first time moving into someone else’s space. My significant other (hereafter referred to as “SO”) and his two housemates have lived in their house for seven years. This is not like going into an empty house with other people or like sharing a room in college. They have their established ways of doing things, they have their places, and I am trying to fit myself into the cracks.

In this process I’ve also learned that my SO and I need different things from a living space to feel comfortable, which is something I knew in theory but it’s different when we’re figuring out what to do with physical things. He needs enough space for his things, while I need for my things to have spaces. My junk drawer isn’t organized, but it is the place where junk goes. I cull to make sure my things will fit in their established places, while he acquires more space to accommodate his things. Somehow we are now sharing a bedroom, bathroom, and closet. This has been an adventure =).

Everyone — my SO especially, but also his housemates — involved has been very communicative about their needs and willing to help each other be comfortable. Still, every time I think I’m done, there’s another space to arrange. There’s a closet, a pantry, shelves in a kitchen, drawers in a bathroom, desks. There was no organization when I got here, and this makes the THINGS NEED PLACES part of my brain twitchy if left unresolved. It wasn’t enough to get my things here; to feel settled I also had to place them.

In some places I simply added my cleaning or pantry supplies or whatnot to the existing space. Any time I combined my stuff with theirs, I also sorted through which of theirs needed to be trashed anyway to free up space and organized so we could find things. (Oatmeal does not need to be on three different shelves, right? Not just me?) The closet now includes drawers; we each have a sink in the bathroom; for our new bed we acquired a bedframe with drawers; extraneous cardboard boxes and piles of discarded plastic have been moved to more appropriate venues (often the trashcan). The cats have loved this process; I keep moving things around, so they, naturally, have to investigate.

In others, we cleared out space for me. One shelf of comics was moved out of the library so I could move my desk in. It’s a space where I can be seal myself off (until the cats meow at the door, anyway) and have a private space while I work late into the night and the rest of the resident humans sleep. It’s a little space carved out just for me to arrange and use as I need, and that means everything. The cat has found where I keep my ninja caltrop, so I wouldn’t call this place peaceful, but it is what I need.

It was odd to finally leave my last apartment. That was the first place that was entirely mine: I chose it, and I chose everything that went into it and arranged it just for me. Now this is the first place I’m living with a SO, and I think the last month has been educational for both of us. But just as there are new challenges, there are new rewards, too.

Emergency Process for Extreme Stress

Today was one of those days where I had blocked enough time, I thought, that I could really dig down into getting things done, things I’d been putting off in favor of other, more immediate concerns. The things were all manageable things, but the list was long, and as soon as I would start to work on one I would think of another. It’s the kind of mental state I get to where I have so many things to do that I get overwhelmed; I know I need to break things down into manageable chunks or just start doing anything, but everything seems equally important and I’m not in the mood and I don’t want to and I don’t know where to start and I’m too deep, too close to all the details and facets to keep track of to figure out even how to start.

The mental paralysis and internal loops are never as obvious inside my head as that makes it sound: I have gotten things done for hours or days sometimes, often flitting between tasks or spending more time on the least important of them before I figure out I’m not working efficiently.

This is how stress manifests for me mentally: I’m working, but I’m not at my best.

Extreme stress also manifests for me physically in the form of my body noping out of the whole business, but that comes at a later stage, one that causes huge problems if I haven’t headed it off at the mental stage.

So it’s important that I have a process in place to address high levels of stress (distinguished from normal levels, where I function), because once I’m at that point it’s hard for me to even tell that I’m stressed, let alone to figure out what to do about it.

The idea is to figure out what cuts stress level in times of less stress. When I’m very stressed, I won’t believe anything can help besides buckling down and getting shit done, but I can’t effectively do the work when I’m very stressed. But if there’s a system in place for Thing To Do When Experiencing Extreme Levels of Stress, I can break the cycle.

Sometimes my solution is different. Sometimes I need to take a walk or get myself to an emergency dance class. Sometimes I need to call my mother or a close friend and just chatter about nothing of substance with someone who loves me unconditionally.

Usually, the solution is to read a novel. A novella will do in a pinch, but a novel is better.

It seems counter-intuitive. My brain always argues about it. Like, if I’m already stressed about how much time I have to do all of these things, how can I possibly justify taking three or four hours to read a book?

But for me, the act of reading, of absorbing a story that has structure and intention in a way that life does not, helps me internalize that organization to impose on my own thoughts and life. It forces me out of my head, away from the problems at hand, so that when I step back to them I’m coming from a place of distance that affords clarity.

I read a book, and balance is restored. I can do All The Things efficiently and easily. It’s mind-boggling, the difference it makes every time.

Sometimes the strategy changes. The important thing is that what always changes is me.

Editing Month: Defeated!

I HAVE DEFEATED EDITING MONTH.

I have two new novels edited and out in the world. I fell off the submission bandwagon for a while, so it’s both past time and also extremely satisfying. (With some accompanying panicflail, naturally.)

This is probably the best editing experience I’ve had, actually. On one hand, I did more extensive edits in a relatively short timeframe; on the other, working closely with these manuscripts again reminded me why I love these stories so much, and that made the whole process less grueling. I’m also organizing my editing, which has the advantages of making the process more logical and giving me tasks to cross off of lists. That helps me budget time and also track progress.

In the midst of all this I started a new part-time job as a tutor, and it’s been great to get back to teaching. It also means that I now know far more about standardized testing than I did when I was actually taking them. The fact that the SAT is relevant to my life is some sort of cosmic joke, but I’m loving getting to work with students again.

I have another novel to review and get back out on submission, but since I’ve been exclusively editing for the last month, I decree I’m allowed to switch back to drafting. Because shiny project!

(And because my writer brain is clearly feeling neglected: it has sent me a steady stream of dystopian action dreams for the last month, and since I refuse to go there I need to write something else.)

Now I get to pick up my YA mecha novel, because space battles with giant pilotable robots justify themselves, right? Right. SO EXCITED.

Ordering My Spaces, Ordering My Mind

I never used to think of myself as a particularly tidy person. But as time goes on, it’s clear I’ve become one.

I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I know sharing a room in college was educational in realizing how my clutter could affect other people; then in Japan I was never sure when someone would stop by my apartment without notice, and I didn’t want to be that sloppy foreigner. All the traveling I’ve done over the years has made me very conscious about the acquisition of things, both in terms of saving my money for things I really want (like trips to faraway places) and in not having to transport large quantities of stuff (read: books). But it’s been a gradual process.

Now for the first time I’m living in a place that I chose. I bought and built all my furniture myself, and I designed a space for myself that feels like it’s mine. I live in a small studio apartment, and I’ve refused to acquire more than is strictly necessary because I value the space I have (really, impromptu dance parties are more important than couches).

And in this apartment, where I can take in almost the whole of it at a glance, it is Extremely Obvious when something is out of place. I keep my apartment very Spartan because I’m easily distracted, so when there are piles of envelopes or dishes scattered about they are glaring tics in my vision.Apartment

Hallway
Seriously, you can pretty much see all of it at once.

On one hand, when my apartment is extremely clean, it probably means I may have been cleaning rather than writing. For a long time, I felt that time spent cleaning was essentially time wasted, because it meant it wasn’t time spent writing when I should have. On the other, I’ve realized that I really do need a sort of tidiness here.

Ordering my space helps me order my mind. Controlling my physical environment helps me feel more in control in general, which helps me feel like a competent person who might actually be capable of writing novels.

Of course I’ve written novels before, so I ought to know it can be done, but I often reach a point in a novel where it seems insurmountable because I’m not good enough to do it properly. My apartment being so much a reflection of me has the unexpected side effect that when something in it is out of place, it feels like something in me is out of place. The state of my apartment reflects my state of mind, so if itlooks like a disaster, then I feel like a disaster, like “If I can’t even keep my apartment tidy, how can I organize anything in my life?” As outward, it seems, so inward: if I can create order in my space, I can create order in my mind.

Well, I can’t really, but I can usually de-clutter my brain enough to focus.

I could, of course, go to a café to write if my apartment is particularly cluttered. But it’s not just the place I sleep: it’s my space. Knowing that my space is as it should be eases a strain on my mind.

I think the same is true for me in regards to internet spaces, but this tidiness business is still a relatively new concept for me. One space at a time.

And for now, one story at a time.

Day Excursion to RustyCon

At the last minute I decided to check out RustyCon yesterday, as it’s an SFF convention ludicrously nearby. I’ve concluded I probably won’t go back. Nothing went horribly wrong or anything; but not all cons are for everyone. In case your preferences align at all with mine, these are some of my impressions.

Everyone I talked to was perfectly friendly. But it also seemed like the vast majority of people attending already knew each other, and moreover had been meeting up at the con for the last twenty years. It’s great that so many old friends can get together to geek out, but demographically, the con was overwhelmingly older white people. There was a bracket of small children as well, but a critical miss of the generation in between. And, again, anyone not white. And while everyone was very nice, it was a little off-putting. I don’t attend cons to hear people I don’t know spend their time reminiscing.

One of the biggest reasons I hadn’t considered fully committing to this con in advance was the website set-up. The con website had no separate program information except within the calendar. Many events, I suspect long-term staples of the con, had no explanatory information for newcomers. It was impossible to find out where the writing track was being held. Once I’d registered for the day, I was given a calendar that had program information squeezed in amongst ads in tiny print. There was no map, and room names on the calendar did not match the room names on the hotel’s signs. It was hard to navigate the website, and it was hard to navigate the con.

I’ve been to enough SFF cons where people don’t tend to come in costumes that going in I didn’t expect that RustyCon attendees overwhelmingly show up in costume. (I did see that they have a costume contest; to me that did not imply that EVERYONE would be in costume.) And the costumes were great! But if I were heavily interested in costuming, I would have liked to know how supportive an environment RustyCon is to attend wearing one — I could have prepared a costume, or dug out my old RenFaire clothes.

The dealers’ room did remind me a lot of RenFaire, which was awesome. There were booksellers, tiers of costumes, and shops for everything from fancy weaponry to board games, wooden tankards, and comic prints. I did come away with a gorgeous pair of chainmaille earrings.

Now, the panels. I didn’t go to many, and some of the panelists on each were fine. More were not. It was evident several hadn’t even read the panel descriptions and that there was no clear moderator. One panel I sort of steered a little bit from the audience with questions because it started as a “Creatives have ALL THE PASSION and that’s all the matters in life and the work magically happens because of sufficient passion and EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL” and, well, no.

Also, that thing where authors bring books and strategically place them around their name cards and pull most of their points from just those books when they’re on the panel? Super tacky. Like, if you want to bring it with you and when you introduce yourself hold it up for a second, whatever, that’s cool. But the panel is not about selling your book. In fact, nothing will make me less likely to buy your book than you spending all of your time telling me how clever you were in it while pointing down at the cover. If you have interesting things to say on the panel, and I know that you’re an author, that’s what will interest me in looking your book up. Not wasting discussion time by shoving it in my face. (Just me?)

So, that happened more than once. I have little patience for people who are more interested in interjecting bits trying to sound clever than talking about the panel subject. If you don’t have anything to contribute to the panel, why did you choose to be on it?

RustyCon feels a lot like a smaller con trying to be bigger than its membership supports. It seems to have a devoted older following, and that is truly lovely for them. From my limited experience yesterday, I do not think I will be joining it.