– Captain Chaos, Canonball Run
At least this is what’s going through my mind at this moment (all without the Captain Chaos mask).
Seriously though…I got my chicken biscuit with egg, water, yogurt parfait, and then there was the quick stop off at Trader Joe’s for a dark chocolate truffle candy bar. To sustain me. Water in the desert kinda thing. I don’t smoke or drink, so I have dark chocolate; the other, vitamin C.
Right now I have this part of my mind that looks at 5,000 words and sees a huge chunk of my day sitting in my head. Don’t know how many people outside of a mental institution take to that kind of persistent state, but it is daunting and exhausting. Well, the thought of it is exhausting; doing it is actually draining/exhilarating. It’s a long sprint, pure and simple.
I made the challenge to myself, and thus I must immerse myself in my sturdy brand of insanity or suffer the consequences. I’m not quite sure what they are, but they are there nonetheless. The challenge is enough, and I wonder just how I’m going to feel at the end of this.
I’ll let you know….
Day 1 (Friday)
Finished my 5. Broke it up into 2 segments…had to eat.
When I finished the 5,032 words, I sat back and tried to detach and just rest. That was a lot of focus, but, more importantly, that was a lot of time immersed in another world. I was sitting in one of my favorite chairs at my editor’s place (for the second half of writing—first half was at the Oxford Exchange) and set the computer aside. My editor, who was doing her own work nearby, asked how it was going, I put my hands over and in back of my head—wide, as if I were holding a very large beach ball—and said, “It’s still there, huge, right over me while I sit here…I can see it all still. It’s all held nearly motionless… another world I can go into at any moment.”
I didn’t talk much after that. The mind just has to sit with things for a while after such intense focus. And I did feel stretched out and tired; my mind had been pulled tight and held in that position for a while.
Day 2 (Saturday)
Yesterday was a difficult one. I had obligations that took me to nearly three pm. I was able to get about 700 words in before then, but I was exhausted by three. My matcha tea had to work overtime to beat my fatigue. The brain tends not to focus as well when all it wants to do is take a nap, and the chair that I was in facilitates both napping and writing: the chair was no help with the decision on which one should take precedence.
I was able to strain myself and get the first 2500 words finished, and then I had to take a nap. 30 minutes later I was drinking another matcha tea and slogging through the rest of the writing quota. It wasn’t that the writing itself was difficult or uninteresting, that’s not the case at all with what I’m writing; it was the fact that my body has been conditioned to get up at 3 AM and then sleep by eight if I’m lucky. A few nights I get to sleep by 11-ish and then am up at 3, but I often have physical activity prior that makes staying awake easier. Writing when my mind is in an evolving, creating world that’s similar to a dream state, really pushed the envelope as far as staying awake was concerned. I did manage to finish just before 11 PM. There was a part of my mind that wanted to tease the thought of, “Well, you can do 4500 words and finish the rest tomorrow.” And I had to fight, just a bit, to slap that voice down hard.
Day 3 (Sunday)
Was able to start writing after I had done some WordPress organization, my databases having been damaged beyond repair server-side. Round and round with the provider only got me to a state where writeku and Tenets of Truth could be displayed and used, but I lost all access to my plugins, the ability to be able to edit the posts, their formatting, etc. Major mess. So I have been transferring it all to a dummy site, adding back all those things that were lost, and then will re-instate a fresh database later in the week. This whole thing pulls hours and hours away from the writing.
I’m at the stage now where even taking a 30-minute nap is automatically calculated into 350-500 words—this being important because my mind is basically telling me that a nap is a waste of words. Really interesting that effect—and very prominent in my mind.
So, got some of the WordPress stuff out of the way and then wrote 3,500 words, finishing the rest that night. I’ve stated to friends more than once that if I didn’t have to do things like eat, I’d get so much more stuff done. Eating=could have been writing.
This extended type of writing does make the mind want to veg-out after I’ve finished my quota. Brain wants peace, quiet, distraction. I was able to catch a bit of the Linda Perry Project, knowing nothing about her or the show. I admire her spirit and expression. Found myself falling into the show easily as she takes young band members and tries her best to get them to recognize and express their truth. I can get behind that. Have done the same for nearly 20 years now. Inspired me to get Logic Pro out and create some base tracks. I have this thing in me for creating music, often having powerful dreams where I’m creating such wonderful compositions…that’s another work in progress.
Day 4 (Monday)
It’s quite obvious that if I get the work started early, then I will move through it faster. My brain enjoys the early morning rush and can flow through the material of my semi-dream state (conscious imagination) a tad more efficiently than when the fatigue of the day starts to set in and make me want to explore without the need for producing. But it’s the production I’m committed to and thus marshal the resources of body and mind to a focused act.
Time for research tends to get in the way, and I look at the material before me with a great awareness that there is indeed a clock over my head. Twenty or forty minutes, or more, on research is necessary, but there is definitely a discrepancy between what I absorb and what gets put on the page. Sometimes I spend time traveling along the etymology of a specific subject, word or name; I believe in the power and placing of such things in a story, intuitively, but then have to verify I’m using the right one in the way I need for the flow.
Today is one such of those days.
Another time-eater on a long project like this novel (three in the series so far) is the referencing to what I’ve written before. Did the person say it exactly this way two novels ago? What was the name of the friend of her grandmother she mentioned when quoting something the lady had said during novel 3?
Things like that take time.
Another is dyslexia. I don’t mention this for sympathy (hate that), I mention it just as a fact of the process I work through. Writing when my mind is fatigued is difficult in that what my brain sees and what my fingers translate are two disparate things. I sometimes have to retype a word 5 or 6 times or more, often having to stop, breathe, pull myself away a moment, refocus and type the letters very deliberately one at a time watching the fingers hit each key in succession. Then I have to be deliberate with the next word and the next and then I can usually get back to a respectable flow.
And its interesting to note that I’m a capable self-taught typist, nothing to win any awards but I can move along fairly well when the connection between brain and fingers is clear. It is frustrating, though—my delete key is probably the most-used key on the keyboard.
And when I say I have to retype a word, I’m not just talking about letter-switching. I’m somewhat afraid to tell you just how a word can come out, sometimes completely unrecognizable as a word, almost aphasic.
This all the more reason for a focused mind.
Day 5 (Tuesday)
Waking and lying a moment…staying with the imagery of the dreams I’ve had during the night. I do this often and find the strength of dreams fascinating, their scope and their wildness. At one time I would often sign off on emails to specific friends, “dream wild,” and I think I may revisit that.
Listening to Ray Kurzweil as I make my matcha tea and set my two Cliff bars on the table—white chocolate macadamia nut. I tend to go in spurts of deeply absorbing certain subjects and people: Dan Dennett, Dinesh D’Souza, John Searle, Richard Feynman (my conceit: I think he and I would’ve found much to talk about), and others.
Uneventful, I finish my 5,000 fairly easily.
Day 6 (Wednesday)
4,000 words in one long session before a break for food, Food at that point was a Publix sub. I’m actually writing this Friday, my brain was just too fried to get back to this entry, not to mention that Wednesday was my teaching evening, lots of brain stretching and physical work for myself and students.
After I was done with the 4,000 I was in an interesting place mentally, physically. My friend was with me at the time and I described it thus:
It’s like I’m sitting on a beautiful stretch of beach; the ocean before me, wide sky above, and behind me a stretch of grassland and mountains beyond. It’s cool, not hot; the sun doesn’t burn. I’m standing there in a pause. The mind, the world I’m in waits for me. If I look out at the water and see a ship in my mind, then a ship forms out of the water; wooden planks, solid masts and white billowing sails. If I want to get to the ship, a bridge forms out of this pause in my mind, stretching over the water without needing supports. Or a winged animal forms next to me on the sand: large, perhaps dragon-like and obedient to my will to take me through the air easily or maybe over land to the mountains, where sheep, or any other creatures I wish, roam herd-like over that green stretch, scattering as I drift over them.
That beach, that pause in my mind, conforms, manifests to whatever my mind directs.
Notice I didn’t say “desires.”
This is an important distinction in how I process a story. I don’t try to influence what forms by what I would wish to happen. As the author, I have to stay out of the story as much as I can. I don’t want you to read about my writing about a story; I want you to walk with the characters, even view the world from their perspective, their wants, desires, needs and struggles.
When I direct my mind for a story, I’m directing my physical resources, my mental persistence to stay on task, continually exercising the unique tool that allows me to write creatively for extended periods of time.
The kernel for a story comes to me in an inspirational flash. The ability to write, and finish the story, comes with my wanting to know what happens next.
Let’s say the inspired flash I get is the setting I described: beach, water, sky, bridge, ship, grassland with sheep, mountains.
Now, to resemble more closely something that would come from my mind, the sky is yellow, the bridge is a living animal that migrates from place to place (I already have tons of stuff forming in my head about this little piece), and at the peak of the sky a blister forms, then peels back, melting away in the fashion of a bulb burning a ragged hole through a frame of film. And then there’s a rippling explosion as some dark mass rips through that hole, a trail of fire and parts of its body streaming behind in globs and chunks. The mass crashes into the water, sending up volumes of steam and ripples that soon crash over me standing on the bridge. I hold tight, the bridge protectively forms a an overhead frame to keep me from falling off, and I’m covered in water and a clear oily substance that causes me to turn my nose and threatens to purge my stomach.
That little bit, that kernel brings my curiosity. I have many of these such flashes. Some of them stay for a novel, others a short story, others a memory. What hooks and drives me is wanting to know just what comes next. What is this thing that crashed? What purpose does the bridge have beyond helping me cross to a ship?
And on and on. And it is this which fires my internal engine, that thing that initially created the kernel, the imagery, the feelings and sensations. My questions make it reveal more and more and more. I only have to stay with what it keeps revealing to me, writing down everything, or as much of the essence of what I see (there’s often too much information, deep detail that, while interesting and available, might put a reader to sleep) to make the reader feel some of what comes to me.
The fatiguing part is physically sitting in the same position, staring at a screen, typing over and over until the fingers are sore, interpreting and translating what’s in my head to something you can read, dealing with the body’s hunger for food, sex, exercise, feeling the need for sun on my skin for even a few minutes, keeping the mind on the task so that it doesn’t follow breadcrumb trails to that little bird on the tree outside the window and just what the hell does it have in its mouth?…where the mind doesn’t pay attention to the need to get videos edited, websites developed, other writing projects written, or keeping necessary conversations short, emails and texts the same or ignored…
All of those things that require the mind to value the novel above them or else it won’t get written.
When I finished with that 4,000 word stretch and I was walking around getting my food ready, my mind was fully in a state of the pause, seeing things as if they were part of a story that, if I directed my curious mind, would give life to that little silver dish with green feet turned over on the counter, feet up in the air and just waiting to reveal its life and story.
It’s an interesting place to be.
It was going to be a challenging night
I went into that evening’s classes knowing I had 1,000 more words to write before I got to rest my head on the pillow. That really puts things into perspective, because no matter how tired I was physically, I still had to push the mind and push and push until the quota was done.
I had challenged myself. It would happen.
I finished my 1,000 and slept quickly thereafter.
Day 7 (Thursday)
Got a late start today. Can feel the drag on my mind, the stretching out and not snapping back quite as fast as normal. Projects other than writing, like completely having to redo my blog sites, transferring everything over to a new server, put a load on my mind and require a lot of work for which I don’t have a lot of time. So I set up a temp page and told myself it would have to do for now: the writing has to take precedence in order to meet my mark.
But things were going slowly. By 3pm I had only finished about 1,600 words. The reason behind this was research. Not being a high-up electrical engineer at a power plant, I had to call my friend, Todd, who was. He was more than willing to help me, but he also had his time constraints, and so I had to craft a lot of the section of the story I was writing around a particular lack of knowledge. This isn’t as hard as you think when you stick to generalities, and I have enough smarts in me to break things down through logical reduction to know just what kind of information I need to shy away from to sound like I’m coming from an educated place.
But there are times, like with the engineering situation where a manager and engineer are in a frantic talk about something that’s potentially lethal, when I need detailed knowledge about procedures, terminology, surrounding personnel that would be involved, what internal technical progression the engineers go through diagnosing this particular problem set before them.
Overall, the technical information doesn’t make great stories; it makes great technical manuals. Being that this story is character driven, starting with my inspired flash and then progressing with how characters react and respond to what is happening, the focal point is staying honest with how they are expressed, how they reflect off of their own internal life experiences to move with the events and interactions with the other characters. Anything I glean from a technical standpoint must not get in the way.
So I sent out my phone call for help, emailed what I needed to my friend, and then wrote around that little part of the story. I couldn’t stop writing because I didn’t have information—not when I have three other major character lines going on that have very little to do with that technical info.
By the time eight and then nine o’clock came around, I was mentally drifting to sleep with my eyes open. I had the thought of taking a little nap, but somehow knew that it would only make things worse or that I would sleep too long and miss my quota.
So I changed position. It didn’t help that I was on the bed writing, but there’s one single lamp to my left that gives off just the right amount of light, throwing the room in the right mood for the dark stuff I was writing.
I got up and arched my body off the edge of the bed, trying to bring blood to my head. Then I got to the floor and did some head down pushups, hips in the air, body looking like an upside-down V.
Still wasn’t enough.
Then I did squats, more pushups, got to the other side of the bed and knelt at its edge as if praying, only I was typing on my laptop. This started working. Then I put on some Rage Against the Machine (Killing in the name) and that jolted me to another energy level—and I finished my 5,000 for the day.
Day 8 (Friday)
The mind was starting to hit a wall as far as wanting to push through, to stay with the intensity I had been achieving. I could feel the brain’s processes just going slower and slower, as if it was telling me that I had enough right now and needed to rest.
But I pushed through, taking my 1,000/hour writing to something like 5-600. There was more research. I had another friend, Wendy, take photos and video of a place in Wisconsin that I hadn’t visited since I was a young child, remembering bits and pieces, but not enough for what I needed for my story. She went out with her daughter filming, and I bombarded her with questions that would allow me to give my readers the essence of being in that same location. I tend to be very detailed in my analysis of a place or person; there are so many little things that are present to our sensory experience that many people just gloss over—something I couldn’t afford to do if I wanted honesty in my writing.
Again, very little of this detail may make it to the page, but there may be just one thing, one tiny missed thing that, if found, can convey or round out a richer experience for the reader. This is always my desire.
Today I saw the end in sight. The conclusion of this story. Truth was, I knew what it would be, I just didn’t know when my characters and the story would come to that close. It was today.
There’s a lot of setup in this novel for the next. This series is planned for about seven books. I simply couldn’t continue with certain story lines, which I wanted to do, without leaving others too far behind. Things have to fit and flow with great attention to the timeline. It’s not easy keeping, essentially, four story lines in synch, but that’s where this particular novel went.
Writing the ending of a story that continues on to another novel or three requires a lot of wordcraft, teasing and pushing certain words to frame out a conclusion that is deeply accurate to what I see in my head and that obeys a stream of imagery taking them into the next book, the next conflicts.
I finished to the tune of Dragon Army from the soundtrack of Ender’s Game.
I have to tell you, this is my 7th novel, in addition to 12 short stories, and I just didn’t feel that awareness that I had just finished my 3rd novel inside of seven months. That I had just finished what I think is a really good novel and of respectable length at 115,000 words.
In the past I’ve had a special kind of elation at the end of a story that carried on for weeks. But not this time.
I was too exhausted.
Saturday morning I went and trained people and then took a 4 hour nap. If I get a ninety-minute nap in I consider it rare. Four hours and no writing. I felt compelled to write, to do something, but I was done, a part of me burned out and needing recovery.
Sunday I got up around 6 and ate while watching Professor Feynman give a lecture on my phone. Then I went back and thought I would just rest a bit, close my eyes. I was tired. Feynman was still on my phone responding to a challenge from one of the attendees when I drifted off. I slept another 3 hours.
I’m a little more recharged now, enough to finish this journal.
I had to crack up yesterday when one of my students made the remark as to my fatigue, “You were just writing, right?
I still chuckle.
Writing isn’t a stress. It’s a deep effort. I truly love writing. Writing 5,000 words a day for eight days straight, focused deeply in a creative construct you have entirely made in your head and dealing with fifteen characters, four story lines, real world physics (I tend to be very accurate when something happens with regards to physical confrontations)…is like long duration sprinting. With someone on your back. I’ve run up a hill (more than once) with a 255 pound man on my shoulders…I have a little knowledge in that area.
Oh yeah, I also have that little thing called dyslexia—which I truly sometimes forget, thinking everyone is like me and that I’m no different so stop mentioning that. However, I’m told by people like my editor that this does make quite a bit of difference in the horsepower needed for focus, and that it is something to mention, if for nothing else than to help those who struggle with the same.
I met my challenge to myself and succeeded. I got a novel out of the effort, and I’m an even better writer than when I started.
What challenge can you set for yourself?