An Actual Writing Update

Since this is supposed to be my writer’s page, I suppose I should put some updates about writing here.

Being a published author is something I’ve always wanted to be (and have attained to a very limited extent) but it is a familiar story, isn’t it? People want to be a writer with books in libraries and bookshops, but it is so hard to write. It is so hard to finish something.

It might be writer’s block. It might be the day job. It might be family, if you don’t live alone like I do. It might be depression.

Sometimes, at the end of the day–or even the beginning of the day–there are so many reasons not to write than to write.

I feel like writing, in particular, is one of those activities that require the highest level of self discipline because so much effort is put forth without, seemingly, anything to show for it except for a word count.

For example, my brother is a filmmaker. He’s working on a short film. He can’t show us the project because it’s not finished, but there is a whole folder of behind the scenes photographs that he was able to share with us. And he’ll probably share some other steps as the project continues, and I’ll enjoy looking at them, and tell him so.

But all I could say was….I wrote x number of words!

In some ways, this is why writing fan fiction can be so validating. You post it, people read it (maybe), give you likes, recommend you, reblog you. They can comment and share what they liked…or what they didn’t like.

I think that’s why I stuck to writing fanfiction for so long. I hadn’t developed self discipline to write huge chunks of words without sharing it with anybody. And then eventually, writing fanfiction faded into the background.

I was that person who didn’t write for x reason for a long time, and truth be told, I can still be that person again. I should write, I would say to myself as I closed my computer for work, and went instead to the tv because work is hard, and I’m so fucking tired from work.

There were always reasons. Some were valid. Some…weren’t.

I cannot tell you how many NaNoWriMos I failed.

I don’t know if it was because I’ve been going to the Writer’s League more often. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been reading more craft books about writing. I don’t know if it’s because I took a writer’s workshop. I don’t actually know what the final straw was for me (I do suspect large it was work).

But for whatever reason, I decided I wanted to practice a pitch for Quill’s and I wanted a mostly completed novel for which to practice. So, I used the blueprint method in Lisa Cron’s Story Genius (which I only read because of the League), and I blueprinted a novel that had been kicking around in my head for years, and was also a failed NaNoWriMo.

I was extremely excited when I began on June 22 and finished the shitty first draft yesterday on July 11. I thought I had enough plotted out to make it to 90k words, but I’m only at 60k and some change.

I say “only” slightly tongue in cheek because this is the first time I’ve actually written that many days in a row consecutively and it’s also the first time I’ve written that many words a day (I aimed for 3k give or take a few hundred).

Obviously, I still have 30k to go to make this marketable as an adult speculative fiction novel, but I’m going to try to draft a matching subplot and elevate one of the characters to a deuteragonist. I’m hoping to have that done by end of July.

The reason I share this story is not because it’s the only way to write. I know some people who have been very successful writing only a few times a week or just on the weekends. But, for me, I need something more regimented, and even if later works might not necessarily make 3k word counts (in fact, I’m not entirely sure how to can’t brainstorming possible plot lines), I will still be aiming to write minimum two hours a day, every day.

White Complicity

I sometimes forget about this blog. I don’t remember when I realized that my blog had remained silent for the past several weeks, even though I had been active on other platforms. Because it does need be said,

Black Lives Matter

I wrote this up about a week ago. I initially shared this on my personal Facebook, but I believe it needs to be housed here as well. I do not want to take away from a movement, but I also want to face my mistakes rather than hiding from them. I want to encourage white people to look inwards, recognize our racism and complicity in a system, and work on dismantling that system. So I share something I don’t talk about very frequently because it does shame me, and it’s not something I can undo.

When I was married, I was married to a correctional officer. That’s fancy for prison guard. I was also a prison guard for about three months (two months training, one month actually at a facility), and I quit.Everybody in that town was either working for the prison system (google is telling me seven in town which is fewer than I remember) or you were a student (prison town masquerading as a college town) or you worked minimum wage retail. The prison paid well. I could have made more working at the prison as a guard on just the weekends than I could working full time at Walmart.

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Reader’s Corner: The Starless Sea

As someone who has, a little bit, lost their energy for reading (I like to read; I just find it difficult to read working 40+ hour shifts, struggling with what feels like near constant fatigue that is constantly diagnosed as “stressed,” and diverting certain energies into mental and physical health), I have tried to be better about it. If I hear someone quote Stephen King one more time about how writers need to read–

One of the ways I started reading again was listening to audio books on my commute. It was comical when my commute was five minutes.

Now that my commute is 20-30 minutes, who’s laughing now?

(Me, I’m still laughing, I love my little jokes.)

The first physical book I read in a bit was actually Gideon The Ninth  (I’ll do a reader’s corner when Harrow comes out), then Corona happened, and my mental and physical health went to shit.

But, I’ve since started listening to audio books now that I’m getting better at walking (sunshine and fresh air…who knew?)

And then I read The Starless Sea.

I first cracked it open when I was at a coffee shop (this was about a week before the world started to shut down), and I couldn’t concentrate because people on one side of me were fear mongering about the virus and the other people on the other side of me were on a very introspective date, I think? And I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.

I was very intrigued about the pirate in the basement.

I didn’t pick the book up again for about a month.

I feel like this is a book I probably would have eaten up when I was 20 and was really into metaphors and books about stories and what they mean.

But I’m older now. I don’t mind a good metaphor but I also like some meat and potatoes with my reading. Like, actual plot with actual characters without the pages telling you that the pirate is a metaphor when I really want to read about the pirate.

That is, if the pirate were an actual pirate on a starless sea.

I would not recommend this book if you read slowly, like me. I would not recommend this book if you struggle with exhaustion, like me, because there were so many threads and imagery that meant something else I literally kept forgetting them. There are three images (that I’ve already forgotten though two of them are a bee and sword–third might be a feather) that were mentioned occasionally and that I kept forgetting. Then another three were added. There were also at least three other books within the book and the chapters would alternate and feed into the main story.

It also starred a main gay character, who was in love with a guy, and they ultimately got their happy ending with one of the most arresting images in the books–

but it was lost, to me, with all the other arresting images and I feel that if the author had just concentrated on the story+subplot leading up to that one arresting image, the book would have been much easier to read.

I’m sure this book is amazing for someone who isn’t me. But for someone like me, the prose was so luscious I got lost in it more often than not.

 

Coronavirus 2020: Insomnia Edition

When my team was asked to work from home starting mid March (with a tentative return date of April 8th — we’re still at home), my initial reaction towards The Whole Thing was to sleep. A lot.

I thought it was catching up on sleep debt, since I do tend to struggle getting my 8 hours in for various reasons.

Around the beginning or mid April, my tendency to sleep gave way towards insomnia.

I’ve had issues with insomnia before. Normally, what I do to fix it, is get an over the counter sleep aid. That’s what I did last December when I got it — but…I never stopped using it because I was sleeping 8 hours, was dreaming, kind of everything how I thought sleep was supposed to go, and that I didn’t get even when I didn’t have the insomnia.

The over the counter sleep meds stopped working a bit ago. When I wanted to see how much of a dose would be an overdose, it wasn’t on the label. I googled, found out it was a kind of benadryl, and I was not happy for how long I had been taking it.

It wasn’t working anyway at this point. I would take a full dose, wake up or not get to sleep at all and bad nights.

Needless to say, April and so far May (how has May for ten days been a thing? How has it been since six days since the Siege of Mandalore and the series finale of the Clone Wars? How?) have been quite difficult for me.

In the past, walking a few hours before bed did tend to help. But I was also able to box regularly at the gym (I do try to shadowbox at least once a week, though I’ve been aiming for more), I was climbing stairs, walking to help my coworkers, etc. I also mowed the lawn for the landlady every Saturday–I don’t live there anymore and I have no lawn.

I think I’ve identified my insomnia taking two forms:

1) a lack of feeling tired that can be exacerbated by naps. Normally, taking a nap before 3 pm was fine for me. Now, I’m wondering if it’s even earlier. It is very hard not to take a nap during the day when the night was sleepless so this has been a losing battle (including today where I did accidentally fall asleep for two hours in the early afternoon).

2) I am able to fall asleep but I wake consistently after 4 or 5 hours. I haven’t yet been able to figure out what wakes me up–regardless, I’m unable to fall asleep again even if I’m yawning with exhaustion.

Last night was a mixture of both — I napped too late, causing me not to feel sleepy until after midnight, and I woke up after five.

I do want to try walking again as that did help, and even though I have upped my activity level when I realized my insomnia wasn’t going away,  it hasn’t immediately improved which is unusual.

So, here is what I’m going to do, to the best of my ability, for the month of May.

  • Caffeine has zero effect on me. I drink coffee because I like the taste and ritual. In the past, I have drunk coffee with dinner regularly and slept well. I’m arbitrarily choosing no caffeine past 1 pm. Goes to show how desperate I am.
  • I will walk an hour before shift start. This will probably around 7 or so. I’ll start listening to my audio books again, something I stopped doing during quarantine because I listened to most of my audio books during my commute.
  • Starting at 9:55 through 4:55, I’ll be using the last five minutes of the hour to do an activity: jog in place, hula hoop, squats, lunges, burpees, jumping jacks, dumbbell exercises, pushups, etc.
  • No later than 5:30 pm, MWF will be my shadow boxing time for 45 mins. T/TH/Sat will be jogging outside for 45 minutes (I need to work up to being able to jog that long lol).

This will need some adjustment when we’re in the office, but I think the idea is clear. I’m wondering if my lack of movement throughout the day is somehow tricking my body it’s sleeping even if I’m working.

I’ve always worked towards a 9 pm – 5 am sleep schedule. Missed this today but I want to do a relaxing yoga routine at 7 pm, and then avoid anything that has the potential to upset me. No social media. No checking work. I may add no tv, but the likelihood of that happening is small. Either way, after 7, I’ll either be reading a book, writing, or playing a video game. At least an hour has to be for reading a book.

When I wake up at 5, my hope is to get the cats fed, coffee started, my puzzles to wake my brain up, and write until 7. If I wake up earlier, I am contemplating simply starting my day and seeing if I can grab a nap before shift start.

I’m hoping this plan ensures that I’ll be mentally and physically tired. My body will be encouraged to enter a deep, uninterrupted sleep. I’ll give it the month of May before I consider seeking a doctor. I don’t really want to look for a doctor during plague times, but I also think they’ll diagnose me with stress like they always do.

You may notice my schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time for cooking and eating. I have a lot of quickly cooked foods due to the pandemic, and I’m used to eating at my desk or in front of the tv. If I do plan to cook a meal, that is most easily done on weekends.

One of the other changes I’ll be making will be to eat a light meal I know is safe for my stomach after my boxing/run. Heavier meals will be early in the day.

It’s very tempting to diet right now, but that is one thing I won’t be doing. The last time I committed to dieting and exercising at these levels had very unfortunate consequences. The only thing I’ll be doing is avoiding foods I know will cause gastro upset (except for ice cream because HD’s boozy ice creams are literally the best thing ever). But is that dieting or just good sense?

Putting this here for accountability purposes. It’s easy to say one will do things–and the times makes it easy to fall into a personal pit of despair. But one must try, right?

Coronavirus 2020: Opening Too Early (My Non Expert Opinion)

Time, always an illusion, feels even more so now.

I read the news every week, and I am unsure that my governor wants to do a phased reopening of the state. People warn that the second wave of Spanish Flu was more dangerous than the first. That story keeps popping up.

Are we done with the first wave? It doesn’t feel like it, reading the news.

My gym sent a mass email letting everyone know that the governor gave them permission to reopen in May.

I managed to get off my ass this morning and shadow box — interval training. 3 minutes boxing with 1 minute rest, just like in the gym.

I pushed myself too hard since my exercise has been patchy. I huffed and I puffed and you know how sometimes you breathe so hard that you spit? That happened.

Do we remember the main way the virus travels?

Through respiratory droplets.

I thought before that I would ask them to freeze my subscription in May. I knew, this morning, that there would be absolutely no way I would step foot inside.

I am going through so much soap. A lot of places are sold out of soap. I suppose it means the rest of the world is doing their part, but a germaphobe on the best days, washing my hands until they crack and bleed because what if I missed a spot, this has been a doozy.

Handwashing loops, I call them. Was that 20 seconds? Was the water hot enough? Does soap lose effectiveness the longer it goes on? Maybe do a new pump 10 seconds in, 20 seconds in.

I get shower loops too. These are much more irrational and ten times more irritating.

I entered the living room clutching pasta — cheese, butter, garlic, shell noodles, and smelled one of my cat’s poop in the air. I glanced down at my food. Was it contaminated? Should I eat it? Should I throw it away? If I can smell the poop does that mean it’s in the air? You can’t decontaminate the air. You can’t scrub it with soap and lysol.

It took me about 5 minutes to convince myself to eat my pasta and that I was being irrational.

Those moments of intense irrationality regarding personal cleanliness happen more frequently now.

And yes, I eat pasta now. Regularly.

For context, I struggle with my weight. I axed pasta from my grocery lists long before I tried the keto diet. That was right around the time I axed bread and cereal. If I were in a restaurant and there wasn’t a good steak and tater option, I would order pasta but it wasn’t something I kept in the house.

I didn’t lose weight. I lost a little joy.

So what do you do in quarantine when the unknown is all around even though you’re surrounded by the walls of your house, grateful you still have a job but chafing nonetheless?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I eat pasta.

Coronavirus 2020: Misc Thoughts

2020 been a year right?

And it’s only April.

The first quarter of the year is usually difficult anyway. It’s the busy season at work. I usually end up working well over 40 hours, and I have a very difficult time drawing and maintaining boundaries at work–at first, it was because I wanted to prove myself and get that promotion, and then I got the promotion and it morphed into doing the very best I could do and being the very best I could be for my employees.

So it is unfortunately, terribly easy for my own personal goals (writing every day, reading every day, boxing every day) to be first up on the chopping block.

This quarter hasn’t been any different.

I finished Gideon The Ninth (please read this book) and I was so excited that I had finished an actual, tangible book. I have primarily been listening to audio books on my commute, and in the silence, reading a physical book was difficult as my internal whisper can be deafening.

I was really, really proud of myself for that.

Anyway, shortly after I finished Gideon, I became more cognizant of the COVID-19 news. I was aware of the virus, but I had not been keeping a close tab on it.

I had just discovered a new pho place. I had also discovered a darling coffee shop. They became my weekend sanctuary after a work week, where I quickly found myself working seven days a week at the end of February that lasted about two weeks when I realized I was experiencing a slow death of the soul.

About a day after that, my work advised that we were all to work from home until at least April 8th. That timeline is no longer on the table, of course, but this was mid-March.

So my team and I switched entirely to remote. That was hard. It is hard. I believe a return in May is even optimistic.

At first, I had the same grand delusions: gonna finish that book, start that fantasy series I’ve been thinking about since January, gonna lose that weight, gonna read that other book.

I have done none of those things. Without a commute to structure my day, it is even harder for me to not reach for my computer when I wake up in the morning to check up on things.

Never though I’d miss the commute.

I struggle with wondering if I should order takeout to support local restaurants or if I should stick only to curbside pickup for my grocery shopping. People need work, but even essential employees need to stay home for their safety.

There is no right answer, and I pendulum swing from “no takeout ever” to ordering takeout. I know the problems that make things difficult for the working class is a systematic issue. It’s not my fault, but there is an element of complicity that I’m finding difficult to navigate.

My boxing club froze my membership when the governor closed all nonessential businesses.

I haven’t exercised in weeks.

Exhaustion, despite doing nothing but staying home, lingers. My insomnia is back which I’ve been treating with over the counter sleep aids. I was reading the back of the bottle a couple weeks back, and apparently I’m supposed to be using it for two weeks or so. I’ve been using it since December.

I have written maybe 30 minutes.

I have not read. Nor have I finished an audio book.

I am one of the lucky ones. As of today, I still have my job but I know we are buckling up. We are bracing for April…and May…and for however long this will last.

My dad constantly reminds me that we must take this day by day.

I will try.

 

New Year: Onwards & Upwards

Did you know that moving during the holiday season is incredibly stressful and expensive. I found that out this year. I still owe a gift to my mom.

At the beginning of December, I purchased a small condo (all that I could afford in this area), and moved from my toxic living environment where I was living with a roommate who was, well, toxic. And still owes me $3k, but I probably won’t ever see that money and ultimately that’s okay.

Around October, I realized that things had deteriorated to the point I needed to leave. I told myself that I’d like to have a larger down payment, so I would give myself until September 2020 to find a place.

I don’t remember what the inciting event was, but apparently around November, I was officially Fed Up with everything, and began looking at the retail listings in more earnest. I wish I had come to that conclusion before I put in a lot of effort (and my own money) to paint my previous living area when my landlord had new flooring installed. I had painted my room a lovely forest green that my landlord made me repaint white. The new floors are an ash-wood like tile so…not a lot of contrast there. The green looked a lot better but not my decision.

NaNoWriMo started around the time I found the place I ultimately ended up purchasing, and the only place that didn’t look like it would take a lot of work to fix up (things…I don’t know how to do, wouldn’t mind learning how to do, but wouldn’t be able to focus on writing if I had gone in that direction) that was still in my limited price range.

So I did not finish NaNoWriMo. In fact, I didn’t even get to the halfway point. I did get a good start on the story, and I will return to it, but only after I finish editing my first NaNoWriMo, and get that sent out to an agent. Every year I say I probably won’t participate in NaNoWriMo (because I lose two weeks due to a work event and the holidays) but nearly every year I still try. Not sure what that says about me.

On the day I was scheduled to sign, my boss also gave his two weeks notice, so I have new challenges and opportunities there I am hoping to rise and meet. Because of the transitional period, immediately followed by the holidays, today is the day I feel I really need to gird my loins.

The cats love the new living area. They seem more comfortable being on their own than when I was living with her roommate and her cat, who wasn’t a bully but liked to interject himself into their play and play rough with them–he was a sixteen pound ragdoll so he didn’t mean it, he was just a lot bigger than they were and didn’t always realize that. It’s just been gratifying to see Sayre, especially, come out of his shell and start playing again.

As most people do around this time, I’ve committed myself to become a better version of myself. There will be fewer tv binges and more reading, writing, and an attempt to make friends outside of work.

I actually doubled the books I read in 2019 compared to 2018, and I hope to do that again. I also accomplished reading more nonfiction books, something I haven’t done since college. I hope to continue that into the new year, as well as expanding into a genre I’ve tended to be skeptical of, self improvement.

My favorite fiction book of the 2019 was definitely The Goblin Emperor. I listened to the audio version of this, and though that didn’t give me a reference for the many and varied characters (and sometimes I did forget who was who, it was easy enough to remember via context), I do recommend this highly.

In an effort to make friends, I have also the local writer’s guild in a different chapter. The meeting time is actually easier for me to make, and I’m hoping to join the contests, submit to be in their anthology, etc.

I’m dedicating myself to also managing my emotions better. Instead of blocking off negative emotions with food or tv binges (or, worse, both), I’m going to really try to process them, feel them, and then let them go. Don’t worry, I won’t do that in this space here. 😉 But I have come to realize that my own mental blocks are caused by an unwillingness to process feelings and let them go, coupled with a lack of self discipline. I really hope to change both those things.

A Little More About Me

Yeah, yeah, yeah–my About page already exists. But it’s a little more of a blurb and less of a, hey this is Sonja, and this is what I’m about.

That picture is old. I don’t wear glasses anymore. My hair is blond now. I’m also about 20 lbs heavier than when that picture was taken so we’re not posting an updated portrait. Am I working on not being self conscious about the weight? Yes, I am. But I’m not there yet. It’s a WIP.

Second member of the family would be Sayre:

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He’s definitely one of my favorite goblins. He loves belly rubs and snuggles. He does an admirable impression of a gargoyle when he’s on a bookshelf glaring down at you.

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This is my other favorite goblin, Delphinium. Her ears are curved, her legs are too long, and she’s got fur in odd little places. Her head is a little too small for her body. She’s a brat.

They are both master nappers.

My day job is mid level management. There are things I love about it: employee development, achieving goals, that sort of thing. There are things I really dislike about it too but isn’t that the case with everything.

To help burn off stress, I did something that I’m still a bit baffled by and joined a boxing club–it’s just really unlike me. Physical activity in general is unlike me. But then — I tried it, and I liked it. There really is something very satisfying about punching a 100 lb leather bag in the face after an eight hour or longer shift. Pow.

I’m really far behind in my NaNo and it is only the third. Not off to the greatest of starts, but no cause to give up yet. This year’s NaNo will be about as self indulgent as my first. A science fiction piece set in the desert. Add in a big dollop of “that’s gay” and we’re set.

My favorite line, so far, is:

“Zoe.” It wasn’t her first name, or her second, or even her third. It was her name now, though it might not be her name tomorrow or in a decade’s time.

A Fool Like Juggler

When I first started this blog, almost every single post was public. Then, a year or so back, I decided that the internet didn’t need to know that much about me.

I put almost every single post to private, and gave little thought to my writing career.

Then, not to repeat the cycle, I returned back to my dreams. I finished the draft of my novel. I thought–I need to get myself out there. I returned to this website, and put about half posts public, half posts private.

I’m not entirely sure what was more depressing: the infrequency of posting in general, or just how similar the themes went.

It would be easy to see me as someone who keeps washing out. Ha, a writer. Like they haven’t said that before. Mmhmmm. Getting published. Mmmmhmmm. Sips a cup of coffee while they listen to me rattle on, right?

I prefer to think of it more like not giving up. Like that phrase in Panic At The Disco’s Hallelujah song, “You’ll never know if you don’t ever try again, so let’s try, let’s try, let’s try.”

The main common theme was work kicking my ass. And not just like, wow every day sucks kind of way but just, I have no boundaries when it comes to work. I enjoy the work that I do. I find it fulfilling. Is it mid level management. Yeah. Are there a lot of times I find myself going, I really don’t like this part of management. Also, yeah. Do I sometimes feel like taking my boxing class after work is a good idea so I can just punch a 100 lb leather bag? Definitely yeah.

But for the most part, I can say that I am happy with my job. I have a freedom to develop policies and employees. Those are the good parts.

The part where the boundary greys is when I am thinking about work nearly every spare moment. Where I will schedule myself 11 hour shifts for the good of the team. Where slack dings on my phone and I’m reaching for it so that I’m available.

Let no one say I never answer my Tash-taken slack messages.

This was a very recurrent them in the posts I reviewed–some of them are public (again), some of them are still private.

But this is a juggle that I’ve never mastered. If life is comprised of three balls (work, hobbies, and making sure you’re getting the trash out), I’m really good about managing two of them. It’s the third, hobbies, that I suck at.

And to be frank–I don’t want writing to be a hobby. I do want to craft a career from my writing. It’s just figuring out how to kick that ball back in the air, and to keep it there.

That said, I am for the most part happy with the self improvement I have developed. I finished a draft like three years in the making, right?

Gotta count for something.